EASTON, Md. — Students in Philip Cheung’s DeSpiritus class at Saints Peter and Paul High School in Easton, Md., have embraced an increasingly popular trend in outreach: podcasting.
They’ve logged eight weekly “What’s Good” podcasts so far and are producing more.
“We’re now incorporating other members of the school, so every week could be a different group of kids,” said Cheung, who is beginning his second semester as campus minister and religion teacher at the only Catholic high school on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
Each 15- to 20-minute podcast, based on a topic or questions for reflection Cheung assigns, offer a glimpse into practical aspects of life as students, such as the meaning of friendship, as well as their thoughts about concepts such as hope and faith.
“It’s still in its infancy stages, but I’m confident that it would really be something beneficial to our school community to hear about their own classmates and their journey of faith and their journey of life here in the high school,” he said. “I think it’s planting small seeds.”
According to participating students, the process of producing and listening to podcasts is educational, helping them put down their devices and listen, facilitate multitasking and critical thinking skills, and aid auditory learning.
Cheung believes the podcast experience helps students reflect on their faith and verbalize their thoughts.
“We always say that we want our kids to be thinking about their faith, to be involved with their faith, but they really won’t be active in their journey of faith if they simply are just taught it in class, if they’re being told about it,” Cheung said.
“So, I thought that if we give them a platform where they can actually discuss it amongst themselves and with me and some other adults that that might generate some true desire, some true curiosity among students to learn more about the faith and about anything that might come up here at a school,” he said.
“Mostly, I will give them a topic that might require some more thinking, and I might give them a few questions for reflection. And then the episodes will be structured upon those questions,” Cheung said.
“The ultimate goal is for our students to really come to a deeper understanding of who they are as a person, to come to know God in a deeper way, and also to invite others to do the same,” he said.
The process of creating the podcasts is as valuable as the product, according to senior Paige Simonsen.
“It’s beneficial because it’s a different way of learning,” she said. “It’s not like visual learning; it’s interactive and auditory learning, which is just not the most common, and it’s engaging. And it’s just relatable for all audiences.”
“I learn better because I’m engaged in the conversation rather than listening to a conversation or watching a video,” Simonsen said. “It’s definitely helped me enhance my learning skills in a different, auditory way. It’s just super cool.”
“The whole (DeSpiritus) class loves the idea” of a series of podcasts, senior Ryan McHale said.
McHale has been an altar server at Ss. Peter and Paul Catholic Church since fifth grade. “I just think it’s a great way for our kids to get engaged with their faith,” he said. “We talk about Scripture and … what influenced them to go to church and that kind of thing.”
DeSpiritus class students said they “love” Mr. Cheung.
“He’s a great addition to our school, and he does so much,” McHale said. “From being campus minister to being a religion teacher to watching our basketball and soccer games and being a part of every activity — he’s amazing.”
Cheung said the recorded conversations are limited to at least four students per episode.
According to the Pew Research Center, the “share of Americans who listen to podcasts has also substantially increased over the last decade. As of 2021, 41% of Americans ages 12 or older have listened to a podcast in the past month, according to ‘The Infinite Dial’ report by Edison Research and Triton Digital, up from 37% in 2020 and just 9% in 2008.”
“I listen to a lot of podcasts, a lot of sports podcasts,” senior Jens Denton said.
“The podcast is actually an opportunity to really show some insight on the students of our school, like their faith,” Denton said. “In the podcasts, you can hear what the person’s thinking, and being able to hear their feelings and articulate about that is just giving other people a new perspective on what they might think.”
“I’m not an avid listener (to podcasts) myself, but I would say they’re very relatable,” Simonsen said.
“I think more schools should start doing podcasts and having something like a club for students,” senior Evan Villano said. “I think it’s a very good idea because a lot of people like them, and a lot of people listen to them.”
McHale said he wants “a lot of students to say they’ve been a part of it, and a lot of people to listen and enjoy and learn something new, or be influenced to go to church or go practice their faith or just go help somebody. If we can influence even one person, that’s awesome, but if we can (influence) our community, it will be amazing.”
Listeners can access the weekly SSPP campus ministry What’s Good podcast via Spotify and Apple podcasts.