Some schools have interesting extracurriculars, but Berlin’s JFKS campus truly takes the biscuit. Born from the efforts of teacher Daniel Lazar, the JFKS IDEAS podcast is a project that allows the empathy, intellect, and kindness of Gen Z to take the wheel. The show is guided by co-host Tony Oldani and demonstrates an incredibly mature consciousness that’s delicate, refreshing, and full of hope. We sat down with Daniel and Tony to talk community, Berlin, and the reality of being a teen today.
Hi guys! Introduce yourselves and your podcast to our readers!
Tony: Hi! I’m Tony Oldani. I’m 17 years old and I’m a junior at JFK.
Daniel: And I am Daniel, Tony’s biggest fanboy, and a teacher at the Kennedy school. I’m also the founding advisor and faculty advisor of the IDEAS club which is the group that produces the JFKS IDEAS podcast.
In terms of school extracurricular activities, having a podcast is rare. What inspired you to start this initiative?
Daniel: Well the podcast is a product of the IDEAS club which is a community in our school that stands for identity, diversity, empathy, awareness, and service. It came about in response to problems that we were experiencing in our school community, but also as a result of the crises that were plaguing the world at large. I wanted to create a space outside of the classroom for students who share my fears about racism, discrimination, and disconnection, but also for those who share my hope that if we engage proactively, we can spark real change.
The club began with student meeting at lunch to have open floor discussions and then they decided to put those discussions into print via a journal. Later they expanded on that publication by starting the podcast that we know today.
And when did you become involved with the IDEAS club Tony?
Tony: I began working on the podcast during the heyday of COVID. That year was really transformative for me in terms of my politics, sense of being, and the way I chose to carry myself. The IDEAS club gave me a place to explore these newfound concepts and also the opportunity to finesse my journalistic skills via the journal and the podcast.
Joining the club has been a tremendous journey for me. Not only has it served me in terms of forming connections, but it’s also given me a space to talk about issues that really matter. We have ample opportunity to unpack whatever is on our minds, and that kind of space, well, it’s a breath of fresh air. It’s also a way for me to keep my ear to the ground, hear what people my age are talking about, and relay on those thoughts to hundreds of people.
Daniel: Yeah. The podcast doesn’t shy away from tough questions. Instead, it engages with them via civil and proactive discourse. In the beginning, I produced and co-hosted the podcast but now Tony and his peers have taken over almost all of the responsibilities. I’m basically their cheerleader.
Does the novelty of this space still feel unique to you?
Daniel: It’s funny because we’re so used to the IDEAS club that it’s easy to forget how rare of a concept this community truly is. We know that every Monday we’ll have the space to have a hard-hitting discussion and dive into a topic that doesn’t usually get space in an academic curriculum. That kind of opportunity is truly unusual and the fact that I get to witness it feels incredibly special.
Similarly, the students like Tony who balance this podcast against their academic lives, instruments, and responsibilities, perpetually blow me away. I almost get a little emotional thinking about it. Their willingness to devote part of their time to a project like this is beautiful and beyond encouraging.
Thus far, your podcast has discussed a myriad of topics such as TikTok, neurodiversity, and national identities. How do you select the subject matter for your podcast?
Daniel: Honestly, we usually fight over it.
Tony: Yeah. I mean lots of the content stems from discussions that happen at lunchtime, but then other ones, such as the TikTok episode or our mental health mini-series, are more intentional.
We try to gear episodes towards mental health and its effects on the youth because that’s a dominating topic for people our age, but even still, that’s a large umbrella. We almost always have to we always have to argue some ideas out.
Once you’ve taken these heavy issues, dissected them with your peers, and relayed your findings on the podcast, do you feel more at ease about the subject matter at hand?
Tony: I think so.
Daniel: I do too. I take some solace in my belief, which I hope is not foolhardy, that Tony, his previous co-host Bella Winger, and the rest of the podcast team model a way to talk about desperately difficult issues for other students in our community. They don’t shy away from the gritty facets of a topic or talk over one another, instead, they listen to each other. That’s a courtesy that’s often wiped out by virtue signalling or ego in the media these days and that’s a pity because it’s vital to trigger real change.
Though the subject matter discussed on the podcast can be loaded, the tone in which you navigate every episode is entirely calm. Is this a conscious decision?
Daniel: For sure.
Tony: Yeah. We try to keep a calm tone so that our shows are palatable for every demographic of people. Our shows are aimed at people our age and younger and so we want to communicate in a way that actually speaks to them and acts as a launchpad for them to start their own discussions too. We know our younger classmates and their parents are listening and quite frankly, that’s a responsibility we take really seriously.
On that, what do your classmates and school community members think of the podcast?
Tony: They hate it – I’m joking. The response has been great from everyone. We shout out to our listeners every episode and receive validation for the amount of time, effort, and work we put into the project which feels really validating. Bella Winger and I have even been recognized by some of our community’s parents!
Podcasting is an industry that has really just come to fruition in the past few years. For you Tony, that pretty much coincides with your coming of age. This experience is fairly unique so I’m curious about the way in which you view it as a medium – does it feel the same as radio/TV?
Tony: Well, I only delved into the podcasting sphere when I started working on the podcast. Before that, I knew of big podcasts such as Joe Rogan’s, etc., but I’d never really been exposed to the industry at large.
However, I had been massively aware of the radio. Growing up, my dad always listened to BBC and NPR and so I have always been exposed to the broadcasting of conversation. Now, I view podcasts as just another medium to connect with people, similar to live streaming channels or social media platforms.
And to finish, what is your favorite sound?
Daniel: Hmm… That’s a tough one. Tony, what’s your favorite sound? Other than the sound of my voice, of course.
Tony: That’s big of you to think that that’s a favorite sound of mine!
Honestly, growing up in Berlin, you hear industrial sounds like cranes and metal and things, all the time. I know that some people find it harsh and offputting, but I’ve gotten used to it and now, it kind of reminds me of home.
Daniel: C’mon Tony, that’s your favorite sound – industrial noise?
Tony: Well. Maybe. I guess that’s my fringe answer. I’m being cool here. I’m a punk.
Daniel: All right. So what’s your non-fringe answer?
Tony: Hmm… I like the little, the little ‘dweplop’ noise that water makes when you pour it into something. I like hearing a little droplet softly hit a surface. Do you know what I mean?
Daniel: Alright. Ok. Two fringe answers from Tony.
For me, I have two. My first is the sound of a Hammond B3 and for my second, I’d be entirely remiss to not mention the sound of my daughter laughing, particularly when she’s just losing it, you know? The sound of her laughing hysterically just brings me unmitigated joy.
Also, before we finish up, I just want to say something. I think that gen Z receives a lot of unwarranted cynicism these days. As someone who has had the opportunity and privilege to work with them and as a teacher for 22 years, I think it’s entirely unwarranted. I think people should listen to this podcast because it illustrates their brilliance and the hope that we should have in them. This generation of kids is the kindest empathetic, concerned, engaged generation I’ve ever met, perhaps even in the history of the human race. If you listen to their podcast, you’ll see why. You’ll have a reason. The evidence is there.
interview by Alice O’Brien, for Bear Radio.