In rare opportunity, 8th-graders interview NFL player for reporting workshop

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     Students from Healthy NewsWorks interview Philadelphia Eagles players  Ron Brooks.(Susan Greenbaum/for NewsWorks)

    Students from Healthy NewsWorks interview Philadelphia Eagles players Ron Brooks.(Susan Greenbaum/for NewsWorks)

    It’s a school day, but Kok-Leang Kaing and Jayden Williams didn’t go to class. Instead, they’re in the bubble at the Philadelphia Eagles NovaCare complex in South Philly. And they are pretty anxious.

    “I’m gonna be all wobbly when I shake his hand,” said Jayden.

    Jayden turned to his friend Kok-Leang, asking how he’ll feel when he meets Ron Brooks.

    “I haven’t shaken a person’s hand in a long time,” said Kok-Leang, laughing. “Well no, a professional football player’s hand in a long time!”

    Brooks appears. What the kids bring in nervous energy, Brooks makes up for in confidence. He’s not that much taller than they are, but he has a real presence. The kids interview him about an injury he suffered last year.

    “How did you feel when you were carted off the field?” said Jayden. “What was going through your head at that moment?”

    “All the money I had lost,” said Brook as the room burst into laughter. “And about not being able to help my teammates for the rest of the season or not finishing the game really.”

    The kids are part of a program called Healthy NewsWorks. (The program is not affiliated with NewsWorks.org.) The organization’s mission is to empower student journalists to transform the health of their communities.

    For almost 15 years, the program has trained Philadelphia kids in the tools of health reporting.

    Former Philadelphia Inquirer health reporter Marian Uhlman, the executive director, said the curriculum includes a “special topic” each year, such as prescription-drug safety or heart health. This year, it’s resilience.

    Uhlman wants kids to move from nervous cub reporters to empowered citizens who can talk to anyone, from a public official to their math teacher — or even a famous football player.

    “And that they have the presence and the skills to be able to do that and not be cowed,” she said.

    Back at the practice field, the kids are finishing up their interview.

    Brooks suffered a season-ending injury last October, so Kok-Leang, who is slowly getting less nervous, wraps up by asking about recovering from such a big setback.

    “In your own words, how would you define resilience?” he said.

    “Resilience, to me, is just trying to accomplish something and not let anything stop you from accomplishing that goal,” Brooks replied.

    After 15 minutes of a straight interview, Jayden becomes more fan than fourth estate, telling Brooks how meaningful the experience was to him.

    “Good luck man … I got like, bro, no words. I already know you’re going to be on top,” he said.

    “Appreciate you too, man,” Brooks answered.

    Uhlman said in her experience as a reporter, doing something outside of one’s comfort zone — the kind of encounter the kids are having — builds confidence. Moving forward, the boys will use this experience to propel them into the next challenge, she said.

    “Where they will feel confident, and it can be something that’s more routine, rather than exceptional,” she said.

    On Wednesday, Healthy NewsWorks will launch its sixth book “Leading Healthy Change In Our Communities 2017.”

    More than 100 kids were involved in making the book, which is a collection of stories about noted health leaders.

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