Partner Spotlight: Healthy NewsWorks

When did your organization launch and why?

Healthy NewsWorks published its first school health newspaper in Fall 2003 in an Upper Darby, PA elementary school. The program, then called Healthy Times, was the result of a series of conversations between Marian Uhlman, a Philadelphia Inquirer medical reporter, and her child’s second grade teacher, Susan Spencer. At the time, people around the nation were questioning the impact of school lunches, candy fundraisers, and screen time on children’s health. They believed that a school health newspaper written and illustrated by children could raise health awareness and advance literacy and media skills.

What does your organization do? What are its main goals? Main projects?

HNW’s mission is to empower elementary and middle school students to become researchers, writers, critical thinkers, and confident communicators who advance health understanding and literacy through their factual publications and digital media.

Our interdisciplinary programs simultaneously address the literacy and health disparities that are all too common in underserved communities.

Our staff members partner with classroom teachers to implement lessons and activities that foster literacy, academic skills, and health knowledge. Our curriculum is aligned with National Common Core Standards in English Language Arts and National Health Education Standards. We have worked directly with more than 3,000 students in 35 schools to publish more than 500 school health newspapers and 9 books. We also reach more than 6,000 children and adults annually through dissemination of students’ health-focused print publications.

Our four main programs are:

  • Core Reporters: This program for children in grades 3 to 8 is delivered through a series of 12 to 24 lessons that develop students’ interviewing, writing, reporting, critical thinking, and research skills. Through these lessons, students create and publish school health newspapers, books, and digital media that focus on topics relevant to their peers and communities.
  • Book Program: Students interview community members who are making communities healthier for our annual bound book, which is distributed to student authors, schools, and other community groups, and is also posted as an e-book on our website.
  • Special Lessons: Teachers in any classroom may request a special lesson provided by Healthy NewsWorks staff. The topics include nutrition, stress reduction, letters to the editor, and book reviews.
  • Cub Reporters: The Cub Reporter program offers two theme options, Hearty Kids or Kind Kids. Each of these are a series of up to four virtual lessons for students in grades 1-4 that teach students about journalism, heart-healthy habits and positive behavioral health through research, games, writing and reporting. Each lesson includes activities that help students learn important health content and practice literacy skills.

What makes your organization stand out? What would you say is the most unique thing about your organization?

Healthy NewsWorks offers a unique approach to tackling two major children’s concerns that exist in many economically disadvantaged communities: significant literacy and educational needs, and serious health concerns such as higher rates of overweight/obesity. Healthy NewsWorks provides opportunities for authentic learning, from interviewing health experts to publishing articles for a broad readership. It is unusual for a student program to be integrated into the classroom, let alone to have a mission of empowering children as change-agents for their community’s health and well-being.

What are recent projects or new resources that your organization would like to share with other NAMLE members?

We are in the process of developing a By Kids For Kids Health News Service on our website that will have current interviews, news articles, illustrations, and blog posts from student reporters all over the globe. The news service, currently called “Making Sense of the Virus,” will provide accurate, up-to-date news and learning resources about COVID-19 for children, teachers, and families. We are looking for student submissions to our website, specifically on how the pandemic is affecting lives in your community and how you are getting through this challenging time.

What are the connections between the work of your organization and media literacy?

Teaching kids how to identify and use accurate information is a core objective of Healthy NewsWorks. Throughout our program kids learn how to ask questions, research, and critically evaluate sources of information. Our goal is for them to remember to question every source of information they come across long after they leave our program.

Why is media literacy important to your organization?

In our program, children become health messengers, educators, and role models. They learn how to research and communicate health information that is used for classroom instruction and is read widely by their peers and families. This means our reporters need to understand the responsibility that comes with sharing information with others. It must be factual and reliably sourced.

Anything else you want our readers to know about your organization, your mission, or your staff?

We are always looking to connect with others whom we can work with in creative ways. We love to find unique, health-related experiences for our student reporters that will give them an opportunity to ask questions and find answers. We have a lot of free videos and lesson plans on our website that we hope teachers and parents will use, especially during the next year. We would love to have writing submissions to our website, from kids in grades K-8. Please don’t hesitate to reach out with questions or ideas!

The views and opinions expressed in the Organizational Spotlight blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of NAMLE or its members. The purpose of the Organizational Spotlight blog is to highlight our Organizational Partners and give them a place to share their reflections, opinions, and ideas.