As COVID-19 began to disrupt their world last year, staff at the Whitehall Healthy Reporter – like their counterparts in a dozen other elementary and secondary school newspapers in the region, worked remotely to keep their community informed.
Student journalists interviewed doctors and mental health experts on Zoom, while others wrote first-person accounts and created illustrations about the impact of the pandemic on their lives. “I was just sad most of the time,” Jehiel Farrell wrote in the DePaul Healthy Trailblazer.
And when the distribution of print copies of student newspapers became impossible due to region-wide closures, the content became entirely digital.
“We are a health information organization and the pandemic is the biggest health news in the lives of our children,” said Marian Uhlman, executive director of Healthy NewsWorks. The non-profit Journalism Education Program offers classes at 14 public, parochial and private schools in the city, suburbs and south of Jersey.
Students report for newspapers with names such as the St. Veronica Healthy Hero, William Rowen Healthy Roar and the Healthy Owl Times. Their content is also posted on the Healthy NewsWorks website (healthynewsworks.org), its “By Kids, for Kids” site (which also hosts content submissions from children from all over) and the organization’s YouTube channel.
Healthy NewsWorks also publishes an annual hardcover book featuring student work; volume 2021 is titled Do the impossible in the event of a pandemic.
“We have helped the students bring back a story that is important to them and their communities during the pandemic,” Uhlman said. “Healthy NewsWorks has been a forum for them to ask questions that have a direct impact on their lives. “
Started with a single fifth-grade class at Hillcrest Elementary School in Upper Darby in 2003, the organization has since enabled more than 4,000 students in Philadelphia, Upper Darby, Norristown and Camden to report, write, d ” illustrate and publish news related to health. and reports.
“Our program has been developed over many years with the participation of teachers, our own staff, and education consultants,” said Uhlman, a former investigator. journalist. She co-founded Healthy NewsWorks with educator Susan Spencer in 2003.
The organization plans to serve 1,200 students this school year and, in early December, it was one of 10 Philadelphia-area nonprofits to receive unrestricted grants of $ 50,000 from the pharmaceutical giant and the GlaxoSmithKline health.
The Company’s IMPACT Awards aim to support the work of organizations focused on improving community health. The money will help fund the recent addition of several Camden parish schools to Healthy NewsWorks’ list.
“They are innovative,” Linda Higginbotham, GSK’s community partnership operations manager, said in an interview. “They measure what they do. They are well managed and community centered. “
Since its inception, Healthy NewsWorks has focused on teaching students the principles of factual accuracy, reliable sourcing, and clear messages of traditional journalism – fundamentals that have never been more essential than during the pandemic. .
Healthy NewsWorks grew out of conversations between Uhlman and Spencer, who taught Uhlman’s daughter at Hillcrest Elementary School in Upper Darby in the early 2000s. “What we wanted to do was report back on health visible in schools the same way the choir or group are, ”Uhlman said.
“We were only going to do this if we could publish high quality newspapers,” said Spencer, who has since retired. “We wanted to stress the importance of correctness, editing and legitimate use [online] research sites.
“We created press passes, and Marion gave us [professional reporters] notebooks, ”Spencer said. “And on the last page of the notebooks, we put the 5 W. “
Introducing students to the concept of “who, what, when, where, and why” goes hand in hand with teaching them to determine whether a person is qualified to be cited as an expert in a story involving health. Even kindergarten children can understand a “what is a fact” lesson.
Spencer and Uhlman also said the incentive effect of carrying a press card, meeting a deadline and most importantly having a signature shouldn’t be underestimated, even with very young students. And the literacy, composition, and other communication skills taught by the program are applicable elsewhere in a student’s school day, and beyond.
“Give children a platform to be heard, give them a voice and [a chance to] being leaders in their school community is very empowering. Students with low self-esteem can really grow and thrive, ”said Mia Blitstein, program manager at Healthy NewsWorks.
Often a student journalist will rise to the occasion, said Blitstein, citing a fifth-grade student’s Spring 2020 interview with Sandra Clark, vice president of information and civic dialogue at WHYY. .
“He just got it right,” Blitstein said. “He was thrilled. “
Morgan Washington-Leslie teaches fourth grade at James Logan Elementary School in the Logan section of Philadelphia and uses the Healthy NewsWorks program.
“I am delighted that my students are learning a different kind of writing, ”she said. “They analyze, ask questions about what a medical term means and why they should use it. I hear them struggle to pronounce a medical term, then learn to say it so that it makes them roll their tongues.
Washington-Leslie said the program gives students the opportunity “to write about something important to their family and their community, and to help them understand how to be healthier.”
Said Shamon Rollins, whose daughter Serenity McGriff is a fifth grader at Logan, “I knew she would be interested because she loves to talk and she loves to write. It’s great to see your child growing up.
Serenity, 10, said she was delighted to ask doctors about the coronavirus at the start of the pandemic.
But her favorite part of being a reporter for the James Logan Healthy Eagle?
“It was exciting to see my name on something that I knew was going to touch a lot of people,” Serenity said.