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No dead air: Schools Podcast Challenge

Schools podcast challenge

Fred Rubinstein (centre) of the Foundation’s Lived Experience Advisory Committee, takes part in the Young Leaders of the West podcast challenge.

By Maryrose Cuskelly

The Schools Podcast Challenge trained young people in Melbourne’s west in media production and presentation while raising their awareness – and, ultimately, that of their community – of the effects, risks and stigma associated with gambling harm.

The challenge was funded by the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation in 2022 and 2023 through its support of Young Leaders of the West (YLOTW), a gambling harm prevention partnership with IPC Health. The program slots neatly into the students’ VCE Vocational Major curriculum, developing their technical skills as well as ‘soft’ skills in communication.

Students … develop[ed] their technical skills as well as ‘soft’ skills in communication. 

Senior school students created podcasts based on their interviews with someone with lived experience of gambling harm, a counsellor working in the area, and a YLOTW young leader. Their podcasts were then embedded in digital flipbooks along with photos documenting the project and links to resources like Gambler’s Help. The students and their schools distributed the flipbooks to their communities through platforms such as Compass and Facebook.

Each school received a $500 voucher to put towards purchasing recording equipment. And participating students were each presented with a certificate recognising their achievement and a voucher from JB Hi-Fi. The challenge aspect was to attract the most podcast listens, with the winning school awarded an entire podcasting kit.

Launched in the west

The first podcast challenge was launched in October 2022 during Gambling Harm Awareness Week. Five schools took part: Altona College, Williamstown High School, and Bayside, MacKillop and Braybrook colleges. The second round, launched in May 2023, also included five schools: two from the previous year, MacKillop and Braybrook colleges, along with Footscray, Melton and SEDA colleges. Another three schools, Laverton, Keilor Downs and Harvester Technical colleges, recorded podcasts in October.

… the students had little knowledge of gambling harm prior to the project.

Despite some of Australia’s highest per capita gambling losses occurring in Melbourne’s west, the students had little knowledge of gambling harm prior to the project, says Sarah-Jane Blunt, an IPC Health community engagement officer.

‘Neither did the wider community and that’s why it was so good to do it in the west,’ she adds.

The students were trained in presenting, recording and producing a podcast. They also discussed what it means to be a young leader before a member of the Foundation’s Lived Experience Advisory Committee, Fred Rubinstein, spoke about his personal experience of gambling harm.

Fred’s input was key in engaging the students, says Christine Fotias, project officer with IPC Health. ‘He’s really inspiring. The way he tells his story is so dramatic.’

Fred’s openness about his struggles … resonates with students …

Fred gambled away his inheritance when he was a similar age to the students and then managed, with help, to turn his life around. Fred’s openness about his struggles with schooling and his obsession with gaming when he was younger resonate with students, Sarah-Jane says.

After hearing Fred, students workshopped their interviewing skills and prepared questions. The second half of the day was spent recording and, with the advice of their media trainer– ‘No dead air!’ – ringing in their ears, they put their new skills into practice.

Open and honest question & answers

Across the podcasts, the students’ questions reveal their surprise that Fred, confident and outgoing, could lose so much and fail to realise the extent to which gambling was causing him harm. They were curious about why it was so difficult for him to stop gambling as the losses mounted and the trust of family and friends evaporated.

The students’ interviews with counsellors from IPC Health helped to demystify the role of therapy in recovery from gambling addiction. They asked about the connection between mental health and gambling harm, what occurs in a counselling session and how to help someone who might be experiencing harm. To provide context, the young leaders spoke about the extent of gambling in Australia and its effects on the economy and society.

They asked about the connection between mental health and gambling harm …

For many young people, Christine says, gambling is seen as a harmless social activity. Through the podcast challenge, students not only learnt about the risks and consequences, they gained confidence in raising community awareness about them.

‘Young people think they’re invincible,’ Sarah-Jane adds. ‘After hearing from Fred, they realise that everyone is vulnerable to gambling harm.’

‘A lot of the students game [online],’ Christine says. ‘They’re gaming and buying [in-app] packages. It’s not until they hear Fred’s story that they make the connection. They’re like, “Oh, wow. I’m gambling then.”’

Program impact

The students’ responses to a questionnaire indicated that their awareness of gambling risks and harms increased significantly during the challenge, as did their knowledge of how those affected could seek help. In addition, most showed that they had more sympathy for people harmed by gambling.

They also appreciated the opportunity to develop their newly acquired communication and presentation skills!

There have been more than 2000 listens to the podcasts, indicating the program’s significant reach. An endorsement for putting tools into young people’s hands to educate themselves and their peers about gambling harm.

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