December 2014…A recent evaluation of the Healthy NewsWorks program shows student journalists are making important strides in two critical areas: literacy and health. Both students and teachers report positive results, ranging from acquiring health knowledge to improved writing and journalism skills.
The data was collected during the 2013-2014 school year and included quantitative assessments and personal reflections by program participants. Fifty-six student reporters filled out pre- and post-tests during the year to gauge their comprehension of heart health topics. Test scores rose across the board, and correct answers more than doubled for questions addressing high cholesterol foods, cardiovascular disease, and the benefits and dangers of cholesterol.
As part of the assessment, students were asked to describe their experiences, including what they had learned about health during the year. Eighty-five respondents evaluated the Healthy NewsWorks program, explaining how their health-focused school newspapers had helped them develop their journalism skills, work better with their classmates, and instill confidence and pride in their accomplishments. The “newspaper taught me how to organize my thoughts and ideas into a beautiful article,” wrote one student. “When I did my article on how to keep schools healthy, it was very meaningful because it was the first newspaper article I wrote on my own without the help of a partner.”
One of the key findings of the evaluation was the effectiveness of defining a theme for the year. Last year’s focus on heart health resulted in 86 stories (about one-third of all stories) published in school newspapers on this topic, and knowledge retention was high among the survey respondents.
“It was exciting to find that heart health, a health topic that Healthy NewsWorks emphasized this year, emerged as a theme in the student reflections, even when they were not asked about it specifically,” said Moriah Hall, MPH, who oversaw the program’s evaluation. “This was also the case in last year’s evaluation with medicine safety. These findings have implications for how the program can continue to integrate current, relevant health topics in a way that will stay with the students throughout the school year.”
During 2013-14, some 250 students produced 40 health-focused newspapers in 14 elementary and middle schools in Philadelphia, Norristown, and Upper Darby. Each newspaper staff is overseen by at least one school faculty member.
New outreach opportunities were also cited in the evaluation, noting the publication of the first Healthy Neighbors edition, which is being distributed in community settings and will reach approximately 5,000 people. Teachers directly involved with the Healthy NewsWorks program also noted the academic benefits of the newspapers, but also said that the students gain emotionally and socially.
Regular classroom teachers also reported the importance of the newspapers to their classrooms as they used them to reinforce reading, writing, and health literacy skills with their students.
“What keeps me wanting to return,” wrote one teacher, “is watching the personal growth that each student experiences in literacy and health knowledge, the excitement and self-confidence from interviewing and meeting health celebrities, and being a part of completing newspapers and books that impact the health of our students and communities.”
—By Beth Hodge, Healthy NewsWorks volunteer