School & Community News

Gains in literacy, interpersonal skills for student reporters
October 7, 2020

October 2020 … Elizabeth Donhauser, a master of public health candidate at the University of Pennsylvania, recently completed an evaluation of the Healthy NewsWorks program based on data collected during the 2018–2019 school year. Here is her report.

Student journalists showed significant literacy improvement and interpersonal growth through both quantitative and qualitative data collected during the 2018-2019 academic year.

Quantitative data
Quantitative measures were evaluated by comparing two surveys completed by 66 students in the fourth and fifth grades across five Philadelphia-area schools. The two surveys were identical and evaluated students’ knowledge of identifying reliable sources, how to determine if a website is trustworthy, how to interview, and facts around heart health. The pre-test survey was administered at the beginning of the school year in Fall 2018 and the post-test was administered at the end of the school year in Spring 2019.

—Overall, students increased their scores on the open-ended pre- and post-tests from an average of 4 correct answers on the pretest to 9 correct answers on the post-tests, a 125 percent increase.

—The greatest growth displayed in this survey was around interview skills and trustworthy source identification.

  • At the end of the school year, 94 percent of students were able to correctly describe at least one of the steps needed before starting an interview, an increase of 62 percentage points from the start of the year. 
  • The number of students who knew at least one key factor to look for to tell whether a website is trustworthy increased by 55 percentage points over the course of the academic year.

Qualitative data
Qualitative measures were evaluated through analyzing written reflections from 113 students in eight Philadelphia-area schools. Students wrote about gaining knowledge about health and conducting research and reporting. They also described their life skills and interpersonal skills they acquired by participating in the Healthy NewsWorks program.

More than half (53 percent) of students discussed topics learned from the Healthy NewsWorks heart health curriculum—which was the theme for the 2018–2019 program. Nutrition and physical activity were the most popular heart health topics.

One in five students described how they developed skills to help conduct interviews.

—Though not an explicit part of the Healthy NewsWorks curriculum, students discussed developing interpersonal skills such as confidence, teamwork, and kindness or altruism.

  • One student described erring while she and a fellow reporter conducted their first interview with a teacher. She said the second interview went much better and “we did not mess up. I think that’s meaningful because we learned from our mistakes.” Another student wrote about how participation in the program influenced future aspirations: “Healthy NewsWorks inspired me to be a doctor. Now I want to solve cancer. I want to help people more.”

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Since 2003, Healthy NewsWorks has been empowering elementary and middle school students to become researchers, writers, and confident communicators who advance health understanding and literacy through their factual publications and digital media.