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How Forsyth Central's new podcast is connecting students with elected officials
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Forsyth Central senior Caroline Young, right, and state Rep. Sheri Gilligan sit together in the Forsyth Central sound studio on May 2, 2019, while taping the third episode of the school's newly-released Community Conversations podcast. - photo by Alexander Popp

If you are a fan of podcasts with conversations between community members and local elected officials, then a new podcast by students at Forsyth Central High School might be exactly what you need to hear.

Recently released into internet airwaves near you, the ForsythCentral Community Conversations podcast is a collaboration between students, faculty and Forsyth County elected officials, designed to give AP Government students the rare opportunity to sit down with community leaders in an interactive forum.

At an episode taping held at Central on Thursday, May 2, District 1 Board of Education member Wes McCall said that the project is run and produced by students from start to finish, giving them practical media experience and involving them in their community by introducing them to their elected officials.

"This is run by the kids; the kids ask the questions, the kids are doing the recording, the kids are doing the editing, it's phenomenal," he said. "Some of these questions these kids are asking are just phenomenal."

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Forsyth Central High School students Robert McKinley (left) and Zach Bergstron (right) watch their recording equipment as several students speak with state Rep. Sheri Gilligan for the school's new student-run podcast called 'Community Conversations.' - photo by Alexander Popp

McCall said that the idea for Community Conversations was born while he and several other new officials were campaigning before the last election. He said they kept hearing from the community that people wanted their elected officials to work together and communicate together.

That sparked the idea for Community Conversation, a forum where elected officials would meet regularly in the county to talk through issues and have a conversation with their constituents.

With Community Conversations, he said they also wanted to involve local high school students in discussions and give them a voice. A podcast seemed like the best method for that.

“I think they’ve always wanted to [be a part of conversations], but we have never given them an avenue to do that and so that's what we’re doing here with the Community Conversations podcast,” he said. “We're giving the students an avenue to connect to the sheriff, connect with a state representative."

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Forsyth County Board of Education District 1 Representative Wes McCall watches during a recording of Forsyth Central High School's new podcast, 'Community Conversations,' on Thursday, May 2, 2019. - photo by Alexander Popp

McCall said he was first to be interviewed for the podcast’s first episode, followed by state Sen. Greg Dolezal (R-27) and state Rep. Sheri Gilligan (R-24) who talked to students in the Central sound studio on May 2.

During Gilligan’s interview on Thursday, Central seniors Caroline Young and Giovanni Joseph asked the representative several questions about things like economic policy, her background, what advice she might have for young women aspiring to work in government and whether she supports the Green New Deal.

Although there wasn’t quite enough time during Gilligan’s podcast for a real back and forth between the students and their guest, Gilligan took her time to break down and answer each of the student’s questions.

"In order to achieve anything, never give up. If you receive the answer no, find out what it takes to get to a maybe and ultimately to a yes," Gilligan said to Young’s question on the gender wage gap and what it’s like to be a woman in politics.

Both students said that they had learned a lot from their short interaction with Gilligan and were amazed that someone as busy as she is would take the time to meet with them.

"Today was amazing,” Joseph said. “Honestly, it was a blessing just being able to be called up and talk with a state representative. It’s something not every kid will have the luck to do."

After the taping, Gilligan also said that she was happy at how well the podcast went and how the students did, but was totally unsurprised at the quality of their questions.

She said that one of the things she loves about talking to students their age is seeing their fresh ideas and outlooks.

"No longer are they thinking about their parents’ opinions of the world, they are forming their own and I think that's fabulous," she said. "But it's nice to be able to share what we've learned."

According to McCall, the first episode of the Community Conversations podcast is now available to the public and more episodes will be released in the coming weeks.

He said that before the school year is over students will speak with Forsyth County District 1 Commissioner Molly Cooper and Forsyth County Sheriff Ron Freeman. When the podcast returns in the fall, he said they have plans to bring in more officials and to allow students to vote for who they want to talk to from the community.

The Community Conversation podcast can be found at soundcloud.com/fchscentralstudios.