Up front in a Healthy NewsWorks classroom

March 2015…How did I get involved with teaching some of Healthy NewsWorks’ student journalists?

I started out as an interview subject for one of program’s student newspapers. At the time, I was a health reporter with WHYY Radio, Philadelphia’s NPR affiliate. (I’m now an education reporter.) A group of third grade student reporters toured the station and spoke with some of the staff about working in journalism.

Some students were shy, speaking quietly with their heads bowed. Others shot up when it was their turn to ask a question, spoke confidently, and made eye contact. First, they asked me about the qualities every reporter needed. I told them, “Curiosity, integrity, and the ability to be a good listener.”

They dutifully wrote down my answer before moving on to the next question. At the end of the interview, they thanked me for my time and I left the room feeling hopeful. A few months later, an opportunity to work as an adjunct faculty member with Healthy NewsWorks arose and I jumped on it. Once a week I go to a fifth grade classroom and teach the students how to report on topics such as how salt impacts health and the importance of kindness.

Teaching these students is deeply gratifying. Students are inundated each day with material they are required to study. Journalism is inquiry-based and frees students’ minds to follow their own questions. I have gotten to see how small exercises in reporter’s etiquette and asking follow-up questions have stoked fires of curiosity in some students.

Even so, some of my teaching days can be difficult. The students sometimes are distracted, or something may have happened earlier in the day that still resonates in the classroom. Yet every class is a new event, and I am constantly surprised by what the students bring to the table.

I count it a privilege to spend time in classrooms and see the students’ ideas develop while they acquire a body of work with their names on it. Every time a new issue of the newspaper is published, they are excited to see whose illustrations made it in, and they are quick to point out errors during editing sessions.

Just as satisfying for me is the look on their faces when I bring up a journalism concept that they already know because they learned it from me. That’s one way I know it’s time to move on to the next lesson.

When I worked in policy in a previous job, I often heard colleagues lament not being better writers. Reinforcing writing instruction early and often can only help students, no matter what their professional ambitions.

As an instructor, I have learned about myself, too. Breaking down journalism to its simplest concepts and explaining those concepts has helped reinforce what is important about my work, whether on the radio or in the classroom. I also am reminded why it’s important to make the development of future journalists as far-reaching as possible. The tools of asking questions, fact-checking, and holding institutions accountable should be available to everyone, no matter what their background.

That’s why I work for Healthy NewsWorks.

—Laura Benshoff


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