Adventures in learning about health

December 2011…Editor’s note: Greg Klimowicz, a senior at the University of Pennsylvania and an Emerging Leaders member of the Healthy NewsWorks Advisory Board, has helped produce the Healthy Post newspaper at Henry C. Lea Elementary School in West Philadelphia since early 2011. He contributed these thoughts about his experiences.

Working with student reporters at Lea, I see my role as helping them to think about health and how it relates to their lives – and then to guide them in turning those thoughts into words that will reach their peers, parents, and community members.

This fall we took some reporting field trips for the Healthy Post. We visited the Walnut Hill Community Farm and learned how vegetables are grown and the benefits of organic foods. We also visited a corner store that only sells locally grown foods, including honey from beehives located across six Philadelphia zip codes.

What makes these trips exciting is that the students aren’t just passively reporting about a farm or a corner store. They’re asking great questions, and a lot of them. They’re trying to understand the benefits of organic foods and why buying locally helps the community. They’re really thinking critically about these issues and going beyond the surface.

When we weren’t out on field trips, we interviewed school staff and community members who helped us understand issues such as bullying, exercise, and the importance of play.

The best part of working with Healthy NewsWorks at Lea for the past two semesters has been experiencing what the kids have been absorbing and learning. One of our more popular activities is taste tests. The reporters try new foods and discuss whether a good-tasting food is also healthy. While talking to a student reporter after one of these taste tests, I noticed that she was eating a bag of baked whole-grain crackers that she had tried in a taste test with the Healthy Post. And she was sharing them with her two friends.

During another recent taste test, the newspaper staff tried guacamole with baked lentil chips. At first sight of the dip one student’s reaction was, “Nasty – I’m not touching that!” But after tasting it, he wrote down the recipe on a napkin so that he could make it at home with his mom.

It was encouraging to see these reporters choose and enjoy healthy snacks. I knew that they were understanding and absorbing the issues they were covering.

The impact of Healthy NewsWorks is not always immediate or easily quantifiable, but it’s strong and growing. Trips, press conferences, and taste tests have helped to broaden the experiences of our student reporters and have made them think about health-related issues. Many of these experiences have also encouraged the students to adjust their habits, from choosing better after-school snacks to understanding the importance of daily exercise.

The Healthy Post serves as a powerful medium for spreading these experiences through a genuine voice, so that thinking about health becomes accessible and engaging. I think that’s what makes it exciting.
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The Healthy Post is a publication of Henry C. Lea Elementary School in the Philadelphia School District and the Lea Community School in Philadelphia. It receives support from the Penn Center for Public Health Initiatives and Sustainable Communities Initiative West. Read the Henry C. Lea Elementary School newspapers.


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