A Northwood High School student’s podcast recounting an incident last year in which a classmate was arrested for allegedly bringing a firearm to class has won a national competition hosted by NPR.
In the eight-minute podcast, called “Nervous Laughter,” Teagan Nam explores the role of humor in processing traumatic events, like the one at the Silver Spring school last year.
NPR announced this week that the show was picked from a pool of hundreds submitted by students in grades five through 12 to its Student Podcast Challenge.
“The Northwood community is extremely proud of Teagan’s professional and exceptional work in the podcast challenge,” Principal Jonathan Garrick wrote in an email to Bethesda Beat. “What Teagan has accomplished in their fantastic work is a study of the human response to difficult situations and how humor can be a vital part of healing for a community.”
The podcast’s name came from the idea that people, especially teenagers, can use humor as a shield from showing what they’re really feeling — scared, confused, worried — which can make them feel more vulnerable, Nam told NPR.
In it, Nam describes the events of the day: An anonymous tip reported that a student might have brought a gun and ammunition to school. The school went into an hourlong shelter-in-place before the student was arrested and ultimately expelled.
Nam interviewed fellow classmates, who recounted the confusion of not knowing what was happening, and the fear of seeing officers with guns on school grounds.
“At the time, locked in by that shelter in place and bolted doors and shuttered windows and sirens, we had no way of knowing what statistic we would become, much less how to cope with that threat,” Nam says in the podcast.
While the school was still sheltering in place, Nam turned to jokes to ease the stress of the situation, according to NPR.
And so did their classmates, who posted memes and jokes on Instagram. The jokes continued for weeks, Nam told NPR, and they weren’t intended to undermine the seriousness of the incident. They just provided a release for students, they said.
The podcast features some students who say during interviews that the jokes felt disrespectful or were a sign of people not taking the situation seriously.
Nam then opines that the humor is a “temporary solution” to the stress.
Nam ends the show by saying: “Teenagers are notoriously afraid of vulnerability, of showing our true fears, anxieties, the care we harbor for communities. When we joke about tragedy, the laughter is a shield against something much more painful and much more honest and real.
“Maybe it’s worth taking the risk, all of us to lower our shields, open our eyes, drop our plastic grins and speak the truth.”
Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at email@example.com