June 2019 … When he was starting fifth grade at St. Veronica Catholic School, Dominic Rivera was a little nervous about working on the Healthy Hero, the school’s health-focused newspaper. That is, until the teacher asked if anyone would like to create an illustration.
“I raised my hand as quick as lightning hitting the ground,” Dominic said during the May 29 book-launch celebration for Leading Healthy Change In Our Communities 2019, the eighth book by Healthy NewsWorks student journalists.
He drew an apple tree, and it was chosen to be in the newspaper. “That’s when I realized that I need to try more things,” he said, “because you never know if you’re good or bad at something if you don’t try.”
Now in eighth grade, Dominic drew the cover illustration and wrote a foreword for the 2019 book. “I used to be the quiet person in the corner who hardly raised his hand,” he told the crowd of about 200 community members, parents, educators, and students. “But being involved in Healthy NewsWorks helped me find courage.”
Healthy NewsWorks has worked with more than 1,300 students during 2018–19, including those in the core newspaper program for grades 3–8, a pilot Hearty Kids program focused on heart health for K–2 students, and lessons on topics ranging from nutrition to heart health for other students throughout the schools.
The book features 13 Philadelphia-area health leaders, including an urban forester, a tobacco control manager, a bike share advocate. Most of the leaders were on hand for the event at the Merion Tribute House in Merion Station, Pa. They were joined by 22 student authors, representing the more than 120 student authors who contributed to the book.
Dr. Ana Diez Roux, Dean and Distinguished University Professor of Epidemiology in the Dornsife School of Public Health at Drexel University, delivered the keynote address. She said the environment where one lives, works, or plays strongly influences the health of people. She urged the young reporters to help fix the environment, because adults have not done a good job.
Also during the event, Amy Ginensky, Healthy NewsWorks’ board president, thanked Betsey Useem, who is stepping off the board at the end of June, and Nancy Erickson, who retired from the board earlier this year. “They have helped make the organization what it is today,” she said. “We cherish them and anticipate that they will in one way or another stay involved in this terrific organization.”
Several other students and teachers spoke during the event as well. Reagan Lewis, a fifth grader at James Logan Elementary School in Philadelphia, said she didn’t know she would be on the school’s Healthy News staff at the beginning of the year. “I found it difficult because you have to write down everything that the person is saying while they’re saying it,” she said. “Even though it was hard, it turns out I really liked journalism.”
James Rollins, a sixth grader at Spring Garden Elementary School in Philadelphia, said working on the school’s Healthy Mission newspaper taught him that children need to exercise at least 60 minutes a day. “It gets your heart pumping harder, which makes it stronger,” he said.
Mary Mulligan, a second grade teacher at Whitehall Elementary School in Norristown, described her work with the Hearty Kids program, which teaches students in grades K–2 about heart health. “My students were fascinated by all the facts they learned about their heart,” she said.
When her students went home with information about healthy snacks and exercise, their parents were “thrilled to know their students were learning this information,” she said.
Former boxing champion Bernard Hopkins, the former middleweight and light-heavyweight world titleholder, came on stage to help recognize the students at the end of the evening.
The students received a standing ovation.
“This was a special day for Healthy NewsWorks and especially for the student authors and illustrators who did such an outstanding job on this year’s book,” said Marian Uhlman, executive director of Healthy NewsWorks. “We deeply appreciate the support of the health leaders who so generously shared their time and expertise with the students.”