School & Community News

Student reporting lit a spark
October 7, 2020

Editor’s note: This article is by Elena Tzivekis, who was a student reporter for 8 years on two Healthy NewsWorks newspapers in Norristown, Pa., schools. She is now a senior at La Salle University working toward a bachelor’s degree in communication with a minor in Russian language.

October 2020 … For as long as I can remember, when anyone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, my answer had almost always been “writer” or “journalist.” Much of that dream that I had at such a young age is thanks to the incredible opportunities I had during elementary and middle school through Healthy NewsWorks.

In 2007, I was a first grader at Cole Manor Elementary when I was invited by Mrs. Levine, the gifted program teacher, to attend a meeting for the school’s health newspaper, the Healthy Comet.

Mrs. Levine knew that I was very shy and would be hesitant to attend. However, she reminded me that my older brother was writing for the paper, and knowing there would be a familiar face made it easier for me to push myself to go at least once. That was probably the best decision I could have made. I remember going home that night filled with excitement and telling my parents I would be writing for the school newspaper.

Thinking back to my Healthy Comet days really brings a great big smile to my face.

I remember meeting once a week, on Thursdays I believe. We had turned an old storage room into our “newspaper room.” Before meetings, sometimes I would be so excited that I would run all the way to the main office to welcome Ms. Uhlman from Healthy NewsWorks and escort her to the room.

My favorite part of the meeting was brainstorming ideas for potential stories and using my professional reporter’s notebook to take as many notes as possible. I always wondered how Ms. Uhlman would write notes so quickly and her eyes would never even need to look at the paper. It was incredible.

Now, 15 years later, I find that I too have acquired that skill. Even though we were all just student journalists at the time, I believe we were treated like much more than that. In my regular classes, students were always writing the same types of essays, learning the same material, and not always getting the chance to explore topics of interest. There was so much freedom in writing for the newspaper. You felt you were doing a real journalist’s work. We were pitching story ideas (even if they weren’t always approved), coming up with interview questions, and finding time between class and recess to write our stories.

As time went by, I moved up from Cole Manor to East Norriton Middle School. Its health newspaper, the Bulldog Bulletin, was introduced by Ms. Uhlman as well. My middle school gifted teacher, Mrs. Strickland, helped run the paper. She was very supportive of my writing and helped me recognize it was something I was good at and enjoyed doing.

After working on these newspapers, promoting health in my community and learning from so many great mentors along the way, I could really see how I was beginning to grow as a writer, embrace my passion for writing, and come out of my shell.

Through Healthy NewsWorks, I was able to travel to Washington, DC, for a health conference, interview the acting U.S. surgeon general, hear former President Bill Clinton speak at a conference, conduct interviews, have my writing published in a book, and so much more. I don’t know whether I would be as passionate a writer now, if I hadn’t joined that first Healthy Comet meeting or later worked on the Bulldog Bulletin.

Before writing this piece, I never really sat down and realized just how much these women—Mrs. Levine, Mrs. Strickland, and Ms. Uhlman—made an impact on my education and my writing. Everyone has a great mentor in their lives, and I was lucky to have three, for which I am forever grateful.

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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.