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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Connect Canyons podcast designed to communicate more with school district community

Oct 26, 2020 02:46PM ● By Julie Slama

The Connect Canyons podcast was launched during the COVID-19 school shutdown to better connect with stakeholders.

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

It was Max Lapore’s first time being interviewed for a podcast.

The Hillcrest High senior was at home when he was asked questions about what it is like to be a studentbody president during the pandemic.

“It was kind of out of the blue; I was sitting on my bed and wasn’t expecting a phone call right then,” he said. “As far as this year, we can go to events that are being held with masks on, but whenever I see someone—whether it’s a student, teacher, or visitor—without a mask, I remind them to wear it. I get it. I wish we didn’t have to, but we (Hillcrest High) haven’t been shut down yet and that’s because we’re doing our part. Whatever keeps us in school, that’s fine with me.”

Lapore also said that Hillcrest student leaders are trying to find ways where they can have events, now that many extracurricular activities aren’t being held after a recent Canyons Board of Education meeting. He also wants to  reach out to students who are online or learning at home.

“That’s one of the hardest things for me I don’t see most of my friends who are online and some of those are just ones I’ve had in classes through the years, so we’re trying to find ways to include them, even virtually,” Lapore said.

Lapore was one of three studentbody presidents interviewed on Connect Canyons. The podcast is a new communication tool launched by Canyons School District this school year, said Supt. Rick Robins, who was the first interview on the inaugural podcast.

“The podcast definitely is a little more personal look, and something on a different level than regular news that might be coming out of the district, on a webpage, or through the regular channels of communication,” he said. “It feels a lot more contemporary and more on point with current topics that might be happening so it’s a great medium that’s relative to what’s happening that gives people a closer insight to people who are within the district or who contributes.”

Robins was interviewed as a way to introduce him to the community since the COVID-19 pandemic eliminated the chance to hold town halls and gatherings when he was announced as the new superintendent in April.

“It was a nice way to kick things off and just an opportunity for the community to get to know me a little better,” he said. “We’re still in the early stages of launching it. I’m excited to see where it goes.”

Since the initial launch in July through mid-October, there have been seven podcasts, which often go more in-depth of stories that are available online in the Canyons’ General News series.

“My long-range goal for the podcast is really to enhance communication with our stakeholders. I’m excited to see this unfold, and hopefully to just become another avenue to communicate. One of the tenants in the (Canyons school) board’s strategic vision is community engagement, and I think, this podcast is another element that really supports that,” Robins said.

The superintendent was interviewed by district associate communications director Kirsten Stewart, who originated the idea of the school district holding its own podcast. It’s the first podcast she has worked on and beside a team of others who contribute to interviews, editing, sound, and webpage design.

“We’ve talked about doing a podcast for a year prior to COVID-19 as it’s really a good way to connect with people,” she said. “It’s more intimate, listening to the human voice, and people are able to listen on their own time, whether it’s in a car or mowing the lawn, to a story that can go in greater depth. It seemed like a good time during COVID, with a captive audience, to launch it, and it was a way we could communicate how we’re approaching students’ health and safety.”

In fact, the top-ranked podcasts were about the safety and health guidelines surrounding Canyons schools.

“Our No. 1 episode was a conversation about safely reopening schools with a local infectious disease specialist and epidemiologist. Our second most popular podcast was an interview with one of our nurses about our contact-tracing efforts and other preventive protocols we have in place,” Stewart said.

Stewart said the podcast listener audience already has surpassed the 500 mark by mid-October and continues to grow. 

“We logged more than 10 times the number of listens this week than last week,” she said. “The vast majority of our listeners are listening to each episode in its entirety. Giving the popularity and the demand for info, the podcast is really increasing communication. It’s connecting our parents, students we serve, and our employees.”

She said the name, Connect Canyons, is a “natural theme” for a podcast.

“We’re all about making personal connections and it’s another way to maintain and cultivate relationships,” she said. “As a journalist, the best way to tell the story is to let the story organically come into being. As a storyteller, I love to hear about students achieving their dreams, reaching their potential, that’s why I work here. This has been fun to work on.”

While Lapore was interviewed from his home, the podcast crew can travel to locations or invite guests to be interviewed at the district office, where sound quality is improved, she said.

Since its inception the podcasts have covered topics from the opening of the new Midvalley Elementary to building inclusive schools, through a variety of formats and time lengths. At the end of each podcast, listeners are invited to share ideas for future podcasts with the communication department. The podcast is available on major podcast services.

“We hope people will subscribe and find this useful,” Stewart said. “We truly want the community members who don’t already know to know how, what, why and how to navigate their schools.”