AMHERST - When Amherst County Public Schools Superintendent Rob Arnold is behind the wheel he listens to podcasts.
A follower of the audio recordings on a variety of topics, Arnold decided the school system could take advantage of the platform. Since early April, he has hosted a weekly podcast series in which he conducts interviews in the division’s administration offices on Washington Street in Amherst.
The podcast is in the spirit of an online outreach the school system launched last summer through starting Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages for the division.
“We want to make sure our community understands what’s going on,” Arnold said of implementing podcasting. “It’s an easy way to take in information … this is just another way to communicate with the public.”
He’s interviewed new principals, coaches preparing their teams for the fall sports season and Amherst County High School’s drama program during its spring production of “The Little Mermaid,” among others. He chooses topics such as preparing students for the start of a new school year, dealing with anxiety of Standards of Learning testing and navigating through the complex college application process. He is always open to new ideas and takes suggestions.
“We feel like the topics are endless,” Arnold said.
Arnold in late August interviewed admission officers from the University of Lynchburg to discuss navigating through applying for college. The podcast is geared toward parents and students but the division would like it to become more community-oriented as it grows, he said.
The school system is closing in on about 1,000 listens since the first one was released April 5. The estimated audience for a podcast, which lasts roughly 30 minutes, is 80 to 90 listeners, Arnold said.
He isn’t aware of any other school divisions in the region doing them and the division wants its audience to grow, he said. “I think it’s unique to public education.”
He feels comfortable behind the microphone and is learning as he hosts them, he said. The platform is mostly scripted but can take fun turns, Arnold said. For example, through a conversation with Derrick Brown, the high school’s new principal, he learned Brown liked to break dance in college.
The appeal is the conversational aspect, he added.
Students in the high school’s Amherst Lancers Tech Club help produce the recordings and do much of the behind-the-scenes work in their release.
“I don’t know how the sausage is made, so to speak,” Arnold said.
While most of the recordings have taken place in the school administration office, he has also hosted at the high school and can do so elsewhere.
“We can take our show on the road,” Arnold said. “It’s pretty portable.”
Mike Cargill, who instructs the Lancers Tech Club and television and media production at the high school, said the club began a podcasting team about a year ago and the division launching its own podcast is great timing to use their developing skills.
“The idea behind it is to help them learn the basics of it. As they get more experience they can put it into their own projects,” Cargill said. “I think podcasting is growing. It’s so simple now.”
Senior Mark Thurston, who is part of the Tech Club, is among those who help edit the recordings. He also created the artwork for the podcast’s logo and the music that plays in the background.
The school system is working on establishing a new studio for podcasts in the school administration office, according to Cargill.
“The key is the sound,” Cargill said of producing podcasts. “We want to make sure the quality of our audio is as professional as we can get it.”
Thurston said he feels gifted in the area of technology and enjoys the hands-on aspect of the production process.
“That’s what I’m thinking of going to college for, something like that,” Thurston said. “I enjoy it and I’m getting good at it more and more.”
Cargill said the Amherst schools’ podcast is officially on nine platforms, including Spotify and Apple, and he has observed listeners are mostly tuning in through computers. He has tracked listeners from India, Washington, D.C., Maryland, Oregon, North Carolina, Georgia and New York.
“We are worldwide,” he said of the outreach potential.
Arnold is raising awareness about the podcast, which he described as a newer form of communication than many county residents are familiar with. Cargill said the division wants new listeners and more people to follow them as they are released on Tuesdays.
“We need to find all the avenues we can to get information to our community,” Arnold said.