Open Orchard Productions

Open OrchardOpen Orchard Productions is a youth podcasting group run out of a high school in Southern California. They’ve only been at it for about a year and a half and – like most youth radio groups – make do with few resources. We gave them a Transom Donor Fund award for their gumption. Take a listen.


Three Pieces

Vic Vinson, Cajun Chef by Sierra Ponthier

Listen to “Vic Vinson, Cajun Chef”
Sierra Ponthier
Sierra Ponthier

Recently, I was inspired to investigate the role that food plays in the military. Sometimes people take for granted a good home cooked meal, but for soldiers on the battlefield a hot meal can be more than just sustenance – it can be an incredible morale booster. In this story, Vic Vinson shares his experiences cooking for his fellow soldiers and reveals how a simple bowl of gumbo can be used to break down barriers in unexpected ways.


The Road Not Taken by Sarah Milad

Listen to “The Road Not Taken”
Sarah Milad
Sarah Milad

Robert Frost, in “The Road Not Taken,” emphasizes the importance of the choices made throughout one’s life and the consequences of those choices. I wanted to accent the theme of life choices by gathering female voices of different ages to read the poem. I began with a youthful girl reading the first stanza. As the poem progresses, the girl’s voice begins to age. By the last stanza, the voice of the woman is much older than the young girl in the beginning as it conveys looking back at the choices made earlier in one’s life.


ROTC by Juliana Farrow

Listen to “ROTC”
Juliana Farrow
Juliana Farrow

In this piece, I interview three college students who are also a part of their school’s military Reserve Officer Training Corps programs, or ROTC for short. My brother is an Air Force cadet in college, and his passion inspired me to inquire more about the programs. My goal was to figure how and why already overextended, studious college students take on the responsibility of giving back to their country. I discover that their drive to pursue future aspirations stimulates a unique passion.  At the same time, ROTC has provided safe haven away from their normal college lives.


About Open Orchard Productions by Cynthia Damon

April 2012.  I pitched an idea to my AP Language and Composition classes.  What if we started podcasting?  Not all of my 11th graders knew what podcasting was, but after describing ones they may have heard when their parents tuned into NPR, they caught on.  Many students thought it was a good idea, but had legitimate questions.  Where would we get the money for equipment? How could we launch the stories on the internet? What would we do stories on?

For most students, the unknown was more of a harbinger than a challenge.  But for five daring entrepreneurs, the challenge was a call-to-action.  These five students––Ashley Overbeek, Daniel Feldman, Rosie La Puma, Kimmy Rich, and Connor Parker––were responsible for building something from nothing.  Their journey included:

  • finding and purchasing a URL
  • finding a hosting facility
  • learning how to code for the web as well as upload to iTunes, PRX, SoundCloud, and Feedburner
  • learning the principles of branding and marketing
  • researching the right equipment for recording and editing
  • creating a social media presence
  • soliciting grants and donations to build the program
  • learning how to use our new sound equipment and editing software
  • listening to the great works of others to formulate best practices
  • determining the types of subject matter we’d pursue
  • reading interviewing advice by the masters of independent radio
  • reaching out to get interviews
  • stumbling around with bad sound levels
  • deciding how much production of a piece is enough verses too much
  • promoting our finished pieces

The Way We Work

Open Orchard Productions produces four categories of podcasts. The first category is The Core which publishes pieces on teens interviewing other teens about pivotal moments in their lives. The second category, The Elements, publishes works on the influencers among us. The third category, Fresh Picked, highlights artists. The final category is The Harvest, which is a place for experimental work.

Each category has its own student producer who leads the student journalists working within their category. A student Executive Producer oversees all of the categories (and acts as my right hand). Having a hierarchical structure allows the teenagers to take leadership roles and distributes the work. Often, teaching others is a way that the students best learn.

Producers meet with their staff every other week at lunch to check in and we meet as an entire group after school on the alternate weeks. During all category group meetings, we not only check on project status, answer questions, and brainstorm, but we also present short clips of our favorite podcasts and share best practices.

The kids feel passionate about the work they produce and want to create a mature product. Their motto over the last year and a half has been “we’re professionals who happen to be teens.”

Open Orchard Productions has decided to remain a small group of junior and senior high school students. A group of less than 20 allows me to give personalized attention to each student, which is essential. The number of new skills an incoming member needs to learn can feel daunting. I don’t want to scare away students who have a passion for storytelling. Part of the vetting process of an incoming member is that he or she must listen to some of my favorite podcasts such as: This American Life, The Moth, Radiolab, Freakonomics Radio, The Dinner Party, StoryCorps, and Radio Diaries. When students come back excited to share what they’ve learned, then bingo, they’re in.


Open Orchard Productions greatest success was winning a grant from Transom. Earning the recognition of professional, independent radio producers was a joy and a privilege. Besides that, OOP has had four podcasts licensed by radio stations across the nation; we’ve presented our work to KPCC Southern California Public Radio; had several advisory conversations with Peter Clowney of American Public Media; had private tours of SpaceEx, Fox Studios, and Disney; and received grants from the Palos Verdes High School Booster Club, Chuck Miller, Peninsula Education Foundation, Palos Verdes High School Parent Teacher Student Association, VCA Animal Hospitals, and Marymount California University.

About The Students

The dedicated students who are now leading the group include Sierra Ponthier (Executive Producer), Myles Brophy (Director of Technology), Juliana Farrow (Co-Producer of The Elements), Christine Liu (Co-Producer of The Elements), Sarah Milad (Co-Producer of Fresh Picked), Selina Lee (Co-Producer of Fresh Picked), and Sara Boblak (Producer of The Core). Many thanks for the hard work of the founders who include Ashley Overbeek (now attending Stanford University), Daniel Feldman (now attending University of California, Berkley), Rosie La Puma (now attending Stanford University), Kimmy Rich (now attending University of California, Los Angeles), and Connor Parker (now attending Notre Dame).

Support for this work provided by the
The Transom Donor Fund

Transom Donor Fund

Cynthia Damon

Cynthia Damon

Cynthia Damon has been working at Palos Verdes High School for eight years. Witnessing students learn and improve is an inspiration. She live for the “ah-ha!” moments – the moments of revelation. Helping create Open Orchard Productions has been instrumental in her work as a teacher. Giving students real-world challenges is an irreplaceable opportunity. Seeing how skill acquisition leads to a student’s self-confidence and yearning for further challenges helps give her life meaning.

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