June 9th, 2012 - By Lari Robling
Read all about health, fitness and nutrition! Healthy NewsWorks is a non-profit organization teaching elementary school students how to put together a newspaper. In the process, students not only learn critical thinking and writing skills, but also healthy habits. We visit Hope Partnership, a private academic school in North Philadelphia to get a scoop on their next issue.
That’s the opening scene from the 1940’s classic movie, His Girl Friday, setting the scene in the energetic newsroom. While newspapers have changed over the years, and today’s students probably wouldn’t even recognize the sound of a typewriter, the excitement of gathering facts and reporting a story is alive and well in schools participating in the Healthy NewsWorks program.
“The concept of doing original research, being able to attribute their sources, to understand what plagiarism is, to feel confident as interviewers, to write accurately and clearly, they understand it and that’s what the growth is.” That’s Marian Uhlman, a former Philadelphia Inquirer reporter. She created the Healthy NewsWorks program, no connection to WHYY’s Newsworks—with educator Susan Spencer. This year the non-profit program works directly with 200 students in thirteen schools building cognitive and writing skills as well as teaching health, nutrition and fitness.
Middle School students in Amy Kingsmill’s class at Hope Partnership for Education in North Philadelphia discuss their assignment. “What is dried fruit and is it a tasty and nutritious food they would recommend?”
The class gathers the facts about the process, history and nutrition in dried prunes, apricots and mangos. Uhlman orchestrates a taste test, beginning with the prune. “I said it looked like a big raisin and smelled like one, too.” “A number of you had it looking like a big raisin and that’s a really good description.”
Information in hand, the young journalists now face the daunting task of writing a compelling lead. “Looking at your data here what are you suggesting about dried fruit?” “Dried Fruit: Healthy or Not?” “No, that’s a title, what’s a lead? We need some verbs? O.K. so are you guys going to get on top of this now?” After several re-writes, the class finalizes the opening of the story, “Healthy Hope recommends dried fruit. The staff tasted three different types of dried fruits: mangos, prunes and apricots. The staff liked dried mangoes the best.”
Of course, the program teaches writing, but in the process the students also learn tools to make better choices about what they eat. Information they pass on to the entire school community. To raise money for their projects, the students sell school snacks. Kiani says she enjoyed doing a story on finding somewhat healthier items for their sale. “My favorite story was when we got to interview our schoolmates and classmates about what snacks they liked better that we were selling in our classroom. A lot of people like Twizzlers© in this school. It’s not the healthiest snack, but it’s better to eat than a bag of chips.”
Fellow student Nashay agrees, “we’re not saying stop eating junk foods and chips and stuff. But, minimize what you are eating because it is going to be bad for you and one day you gonna wake up with heart being bad or you got diabetes, something like that.” Uhlman says the 9-year-old program will hit a new milestone when it publishes its first book this May written and illustrated by the students. “What I see are moments of growth. The kids really grasp their opportunity to extend themselves and to see them as professionals.”
CHECK OUT SOME PICTURES FROM INSIDE THE CLASSROOM: