When these Kentucky students needed a subject for their podcast, they looked to the bright blue office around the corner, where their school's buildings and grounds team is based.



We got some breaking news now of the joyful variety. We're going to announce the winners of NPR's Student Podcast Challenge. The competition was fierce. There were more than 2,600 entries. And we're going to announce the high school winner later today on All Things Considered. But here on MORNING EDITION, we get to announce the winner of the middle school prize. And here we go. It goes to a team of eighth graders from Sayre School in Lexington, Ky.

Here's one of the students, Brennan Williams.


BRENNAN WILLIAMS: We talked with lots of people about our maintenance staff and what they do every day, basically, so we can do what we come here for.

MARTIN: Their podcast is a fun, sound-rich celebration of the independent K-12 school's unsung maintenance crew, who does everything from fixing the furnace or unclogging a toilet to figuring out why an entire building smells super disgusting.

Here's NPR's Cory Turner.

CORY TURNER, BYLINE: The winning podcast won me over early on when Brennan and his classmate Braeden Collett sat down with Steve Guynn. He's the head of their school's small buildings and grounds crew.


BRENNAN: Mr. Guynn shared with us a very long list of things the maintenance staff has to handle.

STEVE GUYNN: Repairs on the commode.

BRENNAN: There are five guys who do the maintenance for this entire campus.

GUYNN: The lighting repairs, the setups and the special functions.

BRAEDEN COLLETT: He went on...

BRENNAN: And on.

GUYNN: Biohazard cleaning.

TURNER: And it was hearing this list that made the boys wonder, do students here have any idea how many people it takes to keep our school running? So some of their classmates took an informal poll at lunch.






UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #5: I don't know, 30.




TURNER: Again, the real answer is this school of 10 buildings and roughly 12 acres has a maintenance staff of five. And it's not just the amount of work that they do. Brennan and Braeden wanted to celebrate them for doing the kind of work that most of us don't want to do.

Here's Robert Smith, the school's assistant director of buildings and grounds, with my favorite story from the podcast.


ROBERT SMITH: The occupants of that building walked in, and there was this horrible, horrible, horrible smell.

BRENNAN: Oh, my God.

SMITH: And we tried for...

BRENNAN: It stinks in here.

SMITH: ...At least a week...

BRENNAN: (Gagging).

SMITH: ...To get rid of this smell.

BRAEDEN: They tried everything, spraying deodorizers, opening doors and windows.

SMITH: Dryer sheets in the vents, air fresheners - we did everything that we could possibly do.

BRAEDEN: Unfortunately, there was only one more thing to try.

SMITH: We actually had to go a little deeper, and we dove up in the crawl space to look for...

BRAEDEN: You guessed it.

SMITH: ...Dead animals.


TURNER: When we visited the school in Lexington, producer Sequoia Carrillo and I had to go a little deeper too, to the basement, to find Brennan and Braeden and their teacher, Brad Becker.

BRAD BECKER: I couldn't wait for them to arrive. And they enjoyed coming here. Sat around some class periods and got nothing done, but just listened to podcasts. I mean, that's just, like, the best class there could be.

TURNER: The boys built their podcast as part of a special elective project with Becker in his basement classroom.

BECKER: This is the space where we worked and...


BECKER: ...Did our thing.

TURNER: It's a cramped studio packed with high-end audio and video gear, computers, microphones, cameras, even a green screen, as well as a giant can of spinach - don't ask - and the most important equipment of all for budding podcasters - a basket of snacks.

BRENNAN: So we got Ritz Bits peanut butter crackers, onion, chives, granola bars, Rice Krispies treats - whoops - salad dressing, too (laughter).

TURNER: Oh, salad dressing for the Rice Krispie treats. Braeden, what's your favorite down there?

BRAEDEN: Definitely the Rice Krispie treats, but sometimes, I like to add the salad dressing.


BRAEDEN: I mean, it depends on how I'm feeling.

TURNER: Down in the basement, fueled by snacks, the boys spent hours searching for the perfect sound effects, editing their interview tape and, for Braeden, trying to get used to the sound of his voice.

BRAEDEN: I remember, I listened to my voice for a time. Like, dang, I sound like, I'm, like, five.


BRAEDEN: I sounded super young. Like, it's like, this is not how I sound. Like, this is not how I sound to myself.

TURNER: As for why Braeden and Brennan chose to make a podcast about their school's maintenance crew...

SMITH: This is primarily where most of our tools and things are.

TURNER: Just like Brennan and Braeden, Mr. Smith and Mr. Guynn are also based in the basement, tucked around the corner from the boys' studio, all of them doing amazing things below just about everyone else's radar. Still, Mr. Smith says, he was baffled when the boys said, we want to interview you.

SMITH: Why? (Laughter) why? - 'cause to us, this department is not exciting. But then after hearing the podcast, well, we realized that, man, we do do a lot of stuff that, you know, nobody even thinks about or we don't think about.

TURNER: But when you get them talking about what they do, it's clear that Mr. Smith and Mr. Guynn are heroes. At one point, Guynn says of the students, whom he lovingly calls the babies...

BECKER: What I call the babies.

TURNER: ...He says it's his job to make sure they're comfortable...

GUYNN: We want everybody to feel a comfort here.

TURNER: ...So they can learn, even when that means responding to a frantic phone call at midnight during a storm.

GUYNN: There was actually mud and water coming in the old lower-school basement. And we stayed all night long. And we scraped it, cleaned it, vacuumed it, and actually was ready for school to happen the next morning.

TURNER: Guynn and Smith say they were taken aback by the boys' interest and by their winning podcast, a heartfelt thank you note for and by the heroes of the Sayre School basement.


BRENNAN: We hope that our podcast will make you think about thanking somebody on your maintenance staff and you will come to appreciate all of the things that your buildings and grounds staff does behind the scenes and oftentimes unnoticed. Thank you for listening to the "Sayre Middle School Podcast." Signing off is Brennan.

BRAEDEN: And I'm Braeden.

TURNER: And I'm Cory Turner, NPR News, Lexington, Ky.

(SOUNDBITE OF LYMBYC SYSTYM'S "MORNING FLATS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.