Healthy NewsWorks, a nonprofit organization that empowers student journalists to write about healthy living, safety, nutrition, and fitness issues that affect schools and local communities, recently launched its sixth annual book in the series called "Leading Healthy Change in Our Communities."
The book series started in 2012 to expand Healthy NewsWorks’ efforts to encourage young journalists to write about health-related topics. The series contains profiles of area health leaders, all written by student journalists, ages 8 to 14. Some of the student journalists attend AMY Northwest, James Dobson Elementary, and William Cramp Elementary. Students who demonstrated strong reporting skills in their school newspapers were selected from their respective schools to contribute a profile to the book.
Marian Uhlman, executive director and founder of Healthy NewsWorks, said that, through the program, students learn how to take an idea, research it, and think of questions to ask their subjects. They also develop the interview skills that good writing demands.
“I think that a couple of the key things that the kids get out of it is they get more confidence in being able to be part of the writing process,” said Uhlman.
Some of the health leaders profiled include Tina Sloan Green, professor emerita at Temple University’s College of Education and co-founder of the Black Women in Sport Foundation; Paul Offit, a pediatrician and co-inventor of a rotavirus vaccine used to prevent diarrhea in babies and young children; and Jesus Castro, director of the Boat, Build, and Sail program at the Philadelphia Wooden Boat Factory, where he engages youth in traditional boat-building techniques.
Bettyann Creighton, head of health, physical education, and safety for the Philadelphia School District, is also featured. Creighton’s story talks about how she has been working to ensure that Philadelphia’s school children live happy, healthy lives. Creighton said that schools in the District have activities like movement breaks in the classroom and socialized recess, “where we have an organized, structured play outside, so it’s very valuable and it’s not chaotic to the point where it could be eliminated.”
Creighton said that the District is very fortunate to have certified health and physical education teachers in every building because many school districts do not, “so that’s a very huge plus for Philadelphia,” she said.
Healthy NewsWorks was founded in 2003 with student work appearing in just a single school newspaper. Today, the organization has grown to engage student journalists from more than a dozen local elementary and middle schools.
While Healthy NewsWorks provides information about health issues to schools, it also works to meet literacy needs among students. Uhlman said that issues of health awareness and literacy are tied together because in order to fully understand how to live a healthy lifestyle, one must learn how to use that information through writing and communication skills.
Healthy NewsWorks has donated copies of this year’s book to each of the Free Library’s of Philadelphia's 54 branches.
Siobhan Reardon, president and director of the Free Library, said that the library is investing many resources into health-related initiatives like Healthy NewsWorks because according to recent data, 34 percent of visitors to the Free Library search for health information. Reardon commended the young journalists for their writing.
“Part of the curious mind and part of the serendipity in writing is to constantly ask questions and constantly ask the question ‘why?’ until you get the answer you want,” she said.
Jayden Williams, an 8th grader at AMY Northwest, said that Healthy NewsWorks has given him opportunities to learn and grow through journalistic endeavors. He wrote his profile on Stephen Gregg, founder of SquashSmarts, a free program that introduces Philadelphia children to the game of squash. He also had the opportunity to interview and write about Eagles cornerback Ron Brooks.
“[Through the program] I’ve learned to become more expressive of myself," Williams said. "I learned to talk more, and to be more social and focused.”
You can read this year's book and others on the Healthy NewsWorks website.