A Padua Academy teacher turned a small grant from the University of Delaware into a project involving two diocesan elementary schools, turning the young students into budding podcasters.
Dennis Leizear, who teaches television, media production and multimedia journalism at the all-girls high school in Wilmington, was one of several teachers in Delaware to receive the Innovative Delaware Educator Award from the Horn Entrepreneurship program at the University of Delaware. That came with a $500 grant, which Leizear to team up with St. Anthony of Padua and St. John the Beloved to create podcasts about their schools. Students from Padua worked with their younger counterparts before schools were closed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
He approached St. Anthony’s first because both schools are part of St. Anthony of Padua Parish, and beginning on Feb. 11, his students were able to walk the few blocks to meet with the elementary students once a week after school for an hour. Five sixth- and seventh-grade girls from St. Anthony’s are part of the project.
“We kind of walked them through the process of, what is a podcast and how does a podcast work. We got them to the point where they were recording things,” Leizear said.
The students settled on the cafeteria as the subject of their first podcast. One girl was the host. Another gave nutritional information. They interviewed the principal, Judy White.
“They didn’t want the vegetables,” White said. “One (question) was about the cost of some items. It was a learning experience.”
The elementary and high school students were joined by teacher Patricia Achenbach and technology coordinator John McMillan. White said the project was eye-opening for the students.
“This generation loves to video things, and they’re very comfortable with FaceTime and that type of thing. But it was odd to me that they were a little intimidated with an actual microphone. Trying to hold a microphone and actually go to an adult and ask questions was a little bit out of their comfort zone,” she said.
The microphone was purchased with grant funds, and Padua provided the other necessary equipment.
“The one thing that was nice is that (Leizear) had equipment that we do not have here,” White said. “We do a lot of sharing between the two schools, but for the most part, they have the coolest technology when it comes to media.”
The final session at St. Anthony’s was scheduled for March 13, but Leizear had to postpone it. Alas, it never happened.
“The last session, they had three girls sick, and I said, ‘Well, we’ll just do it next week,’” he said.
Leizear is working with just girls because that is the population Padua serves. White said the group from St. Anthony’s have expressed an interest in communications and media.
The grant helped Leizear begin an outreach to middle schools, something he has wanted to do for a while. Padua already has an annual media day for grade-school students, a four-hour presentation that includes videography, photography, design, newswriting and other subjects.
“This is kind of a natural extension of that. I wanted to do more outreach to the middle schools because a) it would help Padua, and b) I’m a news nerd, so I think these skills are important,” he said.
The coronavirus pandemic forced the postponement of the inaugural Neofest, a gathering that was to celebrate startups, novel technologies and entrepreneurship that was scheduled for May 7 at the Chase Center on the Riverfront in Wilmington. Leizear had planned to pitch his idea for creating middle-school podcasts at other locations to local investors. Neofest is now scheduled to launch in 2021. In addition to St. Anthony’s and St. John the Beloved, he said he can probably buy one more microphone for a third school.
White said St. Anthony’s and Padua have also teamed up for other projects, including tending a community garden for St. Francis Hospital and making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for Emmanuel Dining Room.
“We’ve been trying to coordinate some activities between the schools, like a reconnection, which has been really nice,” she said.