June 2015…Amy Krulik, chair of the Healthy NewsWorks advisory board, loves watching Healthy NewsWorks reporters interview people because their questions often surprise her. One time, the students asked Olympic rower Esther Lofgren how she knew she wanted to be an athlete. It took longer than usual for her to answer, she later told Amy. The Olympian wasn’t used to people asking such basic questions, but rather, tended to focus more on subjects such as how she trains.
“The kids are tough,” Amy said, “and I think that gives all of us hope that there are kids who are thoughtful thinkers and writers who want to share the information that they have learned with their peers and community.”
Amy, who is also executive director of the Jewish Relief Agency, an organization that feeds thousands of families in the Philadelphia region, played a key role in helping Healthy NewsWorks get off the ground. In 2005, Healthy NewsWorks founder Marian Uhlman told Amy she was thinking of leaving The Inquirer, where she was a medical reporter, to expand Healthy NewsWorks and help develop more young journalists who would know how to cover health, nutrition, fitness and safety.
It was a big leap, but Amy advised her to take it.
“[T]his program was really exceptional and it was interesting and it was different,” Amy said. She believed more schools could benefit from the experience and recognized that it could teach students about journalism in an era when school newspapers were disappearing because of funding cuts, plus the declining fortunes of the newspaper industry itself.
“For some kids, it gives them a voice,” Amy said. “There is nothing like seeing your name in a byline.” The student reporters also draw illustrations which give them opportunities to improve their skills and express themselves, she added.
The program also teaches students to evaluate information carefully. Krulik believes this skill will help them in life whether they choose to become a journalist or something else.
“The kids learn how to identify reliable news sources,” she said. “They are being very careful and very purposeful about how they are sourcing their information, because they want to be sure that what they are telling their peers is correct.”
Healthy NewsWorks operated in 15 schools during 2014-15, but Krulik hopes to see it in every state in the country.
“The model is definitely replicable and scalable,” she said. The children also meet, interview and learn from people like Esther Lofgren, who told the kids that she committed herself to life as an athlete in part because she loved it and believes it is important for everyone to pursue their dreams, no matter what other people think.
The program also inspired Krulik to make some changes in her own life. A few years ago, she watched Healthy NewsWorks students discuss the large amounts of sugar in energy drinks. One student advised the group that “you should always drink water, and if you do drink fruit juice, it should be 100 percent fruit juice.” The discussion led Krulik to kick her diet soda habit.
“I thought, if they can do this, what’s my excuse?”