By Kathryn Cleary
In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, a former health reporter has channeled her love of journalism and health information into a new kind of educational program that puts young kids, like her daughter, at the centre of producing health news. Marian Uhlman started Healthy NewsWorks over 15 years ago, and is currently in 15 schools for the 2021/2022 academic year. Healthy NewsWorks is an interactive learning program that uses a specifically curated health and wellness-based curriculum to teach school-aged children the basics of journalism and supports them to write and publish their own health news.
“The idea is really about providing the schools with a dose of health,” says Uhlman. Healthy NewsWorks works with local elementary and middle (grades 1-8) schools in Philadelphia to embed the year-long program in individual classrooms. They create lesson plans that are aligned with core educational standards and health education standards so they can be used during classroom time. “The reward comes from seeing the enjoyment that the kids get out of the program. They find it challenging and they feel really good about themselves when they accomplish something,” states Uhlman.
“That’s really our goal is to help the kids see how they can navigate in the world, and journalism is really a fabulous way to learn about the world,” she says.
“Over the years we’ve chosen topics that we think the kids are interested in, but also their readers. This year it’s about ‘how we heal’ and we’ve focussed on topics relating to that,” says Uhlman. “These topics will help the kids to develop basic reporting skills, but, what you’re really always hoping is that ideas will trickle up, and that often has to do with news happening in their school.”
Teaching kids what news is, is one of the first steps of the program. Initially the kids are really learning about what news reporters do, we’ve found that by providing this curriculum, we’re ensuring that the process moves forward, says Uhlman. Healthy NewsWorks strives to mimic the positive experiences of being a reporter, and present positive opportunities for growing and learning.
The program helps the kids to build confidence, hone their writing skills and learn the ins and outs of interviewing top-notch experts and local celebrities. Yes, celebrities, these young reporters have interviewed NFL football stars, NASA astronauts, specialist epidemiologists and CEOs of major pharmaceutical companies! All of these sources form part of the extensive network of sources and voices for the Healthy NewsWorks reporters to work with. “Since these are young kids, a lot of the writing we do is group writing, so it’s a little like doing a round-up,” says Uhlman. “We feel that the kids should be able to interview people at their school but people well beyond their imagination.”
“One of the most fun things that I do is watch these interviews with the kids, and I believe a lot of those experts get as much out of it as the kids do. The trick is for the kids to be prepared and ready to conduct the interview. There’s a lot of practice and coaching and helping them to develop questions and practising to ask the questions, and that’s a lot about gaining confidence.”
Check out some of the Healthy NewsWorks stories here, and be sure to get a glimpse at some of their fantastic interviews (like the one we shared above)!
Healthy NewsWorks hopes to forge international partnerships and collaborations with other child-centred news programs in the near future. Any HJN members working with youth are welcome to contact Healthy NewsWorks through their website.