CUSD using podcasts to connect with parents SanTan Sun News

CUSD using podcasts to connect with parents

CUSD using podcasts to connect with parents
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By Kevin Reagan
Staff Writer

Chandler Unified’s counselors are using the increasingly popular medium of podcasts to put out helpful information to parents.

The district’s Counseling and Social Services Department launched its “CUSD Cares” podcast last year and has already attracted hundreds of listeners each month with its thought-provoking interviews on mental health, technology and academics.

Local experts come on the show to share their thoughts on how to spot signs of depression or why parents should monitor their child’s video game habits.

“It’s a kitchen table conversation without actually having to be at the kitchen table,” said Brenda Vargas, the podcast’s host and Chandler Unified’s director of counseling services.

Vargas approaches her 30-minute interviews with a casual style – asking her guests questions she thinks every parent would want to ask.

Many of the topics explored on the podcast can carry a stigma, she added, so some parents may prefer learning about them through the privacy of their headphones.

“People just want to know there’s help out there,” Vargas said.

Vargas said her department had been looking for new ways to reach Chandler Unified’s 46,000 students and thought podcasts could make their information more accessible.

The district regularly puts on presentations around Chandler geared toward parents. But attendance at these events is not always high, Vargas said, which prompted the district to find another method for outreach.

Parents are tired at the end of the day, she said, and may not be able to come out to listen to counselors discuss the impacts of social media.

The podcast is meant to bridge the gap between the district and community by offering a library of insight into issues some may feel too embarrassed to ask about in-person.

“We have found a way to meet the need in a way it takes away the shame of some of these topics,” Vargas said.

The simple, low-tech format of podcasts has made the auditory medium more common in recent years among content creators.

Comedians, lifestyle gurus and journalists are all talking into microphones and finding an audience for their conversations.

According to Edison Research, 41 percent of podcast listeners reported listening to more podcasts in 2019 than in previous years.

The percentage of podcast listeners has more than doubled over the last five years and listenership among teens and adolescents has grown by about 10 percent.

Podcasts are a great way to get out information quickly, Vargas added, and react to new trends observed in the community.

Counselors and principals from the district’s 42 campuses often contact Vargas with ideas of timely topics she should consider covering.

When the news media began publishing stories last year about teenagers getting sick from smoking electronic cigarettes, Vargas quickly released two podcasts examining the subject from both a behavioral and medical perspective.

The district wants parents to know it cares about the problems facing students, Vargas added and these podcasts demonstrate CUSD is here to listen.

Among the podcast’s 14 episodes, Vargas said her interviews dealing with mental health tend to be the most popular.

Attention to the mental health of adolescents has become increasingly prevalent in Chandler after a recent string of suicides shook the community.

Chandler High School’s 2018 valedictorian took his own life last year and more than 40 East Valley teens have taken their lives since July 2017.

Students reacted to the tragedies by appearing before school boards and demanding more resources to prevent more suicides.

Chandler Unified has responded by creating a new department focusing exclusively on counseling services.

It aims to improve the social-emotional health of students by helping school sites with initiatives like creating “mindfulness” rooms for students needing a quiet timeout from the school day.   

Today’s teenagers have grown up in a world very different from prior generations, Vargas added, so educators need to adopt new strategies for responding to the needs of young people.

The director said her department will be premiering a Spanish-speaking podcast later this year. All previous episodes of the podcast can be found on Spotify and the district’s website.

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