Grapeland Student Podcast “Interview the Interviewer”

By Greg Ritchie

Messenger Reporter

GRAPELAND – I first met Grapeland High School student Cohen Ybarra a couple years ago, at the first day of the new school year. I still remember that, because he was clever and made me laugh. I have run into him on other occasions around Grapeland, at Sandies’ football games and getting kudos in school board meetings for playing in the band. I know his family fairly well and GISD Superintendent Dr. Maass suggested he might be a good student reporter for the newspaper. 

So I wasn’t totally surprised when he contacted me about appearing on the student podcast he had begun, with the help of then superintendent himself, a teacher-sponsor and a motley crew of other clever and funny fellow students. 

Don’t get me wrong, I get invited to all sorts of events around the county, but this one was different. I was nervous. I interact with high-school-age students often, but it’s always me asking the questions – how are your grades, etc. I knew I hadn’t hung out and spoken to kids that age since…well, since I was that age. What would they ask? How would I answer? No, no, things aren’t “groovy” anymore…what is the 2024 word for “cool,” anyway?

The first thing that struck me as I arrived to the Junior High library last Sunday afternoon was the setup. As one who has made their own podcasts and looking to do more in the future, I saw someone knew just what to set up and how to do it. Several cameras covered each of the participants. Microphones, headphones, an audio mixer with sound effects – I had made it to the big-time. 

I listened in as the students finished part of another broadcast. COVID, world events – my own meager stories of once interviewing the mayor now seemed a little underwhelming. But I mustered what courage I had left and accepted my place at the desk and a free iced tea, too. 

I needn’t have worried as the podcasters made me feel right at home, impressing me with their questions – this wasn’t their first rodeo, either. It was the interviewer getting interviewed, as they called it and I had to think a while about some of their questions, before I answered. These guys were informed and wanted a serious conversation. I slyly tucked the note I had made up of “knock-knock” jokes in my pocket. Wouldn’t be needing that, as it turned out…

Cohen explained he had been interested in working online for a while, doing his own video reaction channel before going to the school with the idea for a GISD podcast, hosted by the kids. Dr. Maass, who has proven not to shy away from new ideas, embraced the podcast, telling Cohen if he found a teacher-sponsor-chaperone-camera operator, he could do the show. 

And so it was Cohen, a junior, teamed up with science teacher Talara Flori, before adding sophomores Steven Streetman and Haylee Jones to the show. It was only later freshman Jackson Daniels joined after hearing about the project, later asking for a mic of his own, to join the conversation. 

“My goal in doing the podcast is to make millions of dollars,” Cohen said. 

Anything other than the millions?

“I just want to bring the community together,” Cohen said. “So many people, especially the students here, believe there’s nothing to do in Grapeland. It’s a small town. The only thing we have going for us is football, the Peanut Festival and digging up watermelons during the summer. But if you really look, there’s so much more here and the podcast is a perfect outlet to show students, faculty and community members – and even people outside of Grapeland – there is stuff to do, if you just try.”

I told the gang I couldn’t agree more, worrying when I took the job at The Messenger how I would fill two newspapers a week in “quiet” Houston County, but usually sending in more stories than we had space to fill. 

I asked each of them some questions, which Jackson complemented with sound effects to accentuate the point or if I was off-point, the sound of crickets to tell me to get to the next topic. 

As I interviewed them, I explained how I come up with the questions and they interviewed me, even pretending to be interested in my boring stories. Only true professionals can humor you properly – by listening intently and nodding while you tell another old story. 

I didn’t get to speak with Junior Isabelle Lane, who couldn’t make that day’s show due to a family situation. I have no doubt she is as smart and entertaining as the rest of the students. 

The podcast is growing, slowly but surely, with more and more viewers, subscribers, comments and is available on a growing number of online platforms for podcasts. Choose your favorite and search for “Grapeland Coffee Talk” and you are sure to find it. 

I won’t steal the kids’ thunder and give away any spoilers here – you’ll have to go watch it for yourself. We did chat about my time in far away lands, I told them one of the most difficult stories I ever wrote and I wondered aloud why they never asked Dr. Maass about his time as a professional dancer on Broadway. 

That last part was a joke, guys, but let me know the face he made when you asked him about it. 

This is a first-rate production, both in concept and execution. It is worthy of the investment from the school district and from the podcasters themselves. I understand why they put so much work and heart into it, not only for their fellow students, but for anyone in Houston County. 

Thank you to my new friends for the fun chat. I am petrified I said something silly, but that’s what good interviewers get you to do. Tune in and laugh a bit at me trying to be groovy…cool…oh I can’t remember the word. 

And I gave Cohen a new nickname I hope will stick for many years to come: “The Podfather.”

Greg Ritchie can be reached at [email protected]

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