Apr. 24, 2019 7:02 am

These 3 organizations teach kids to be thoughtful media creators

In addition to empowering the young to find their own voices, Healthy NewsWorks, Big Picture Alliance, and Hopeworks teach valuable life skills.

Senbagam Virudachalam, a 2017 Healthy NewsWorks health leader, with Lilyana, a student who interviewed her.

(Photo by Albert Hong)

Correction: The number of youth Hopeworks has served, and the timespan for that figure, were both incorrect in the previous version of this story. (4/26/19, 10:23 a.m.)

1. Healthy NewsWorks

(Photo: https://healthynewsworks.org/)

Comparing chronic disease and school newspapers can seem like apples and oranges, but at Healthy NewsWorks, the fruit of their labor is an educational marriage of the two.

Healthy NewsWorks is a program that guides students in kindergarten to eighth grade through producing a health newspaper for their school communities. The program is lead by former Philadelphia Inquirer health reporter, Marian Uhlman, who said Healthy NewsWorks works double duty teaching about health and building youth media literacy.

“Health affects us all. Everybody has a role in making healthier communities,” she said. “Kids learn how to ferret out important information so they can report on it for their community. It’s writing with a purpose.”

For 16 years, she has taught students what she calls “journalistic need-to-knows,” like understanding the source of information and if it can be trusted.

“Being in the information age, this is so important for the kids to start recognizing,” she added. “They’re in the driver’s seat. They have to decide if they believe that source or not. The goal here is to drive that home.”

Students walk away from the program with a tangible health publication, but Uhlman said the most important part is that students learn something they can take with them through life.

“Though only a percentage of our students end up being journalists, it gives kids a lot more confidence in a lot of academic skills but also life skills like learning how to ask questions and present themselves to people,” she said. “These are skills which, if they’re journalists, lawyers, or whatever, are going to be better able to navigate in life.”

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2. Big Picture Alliance


Big Picture Alliance, an after-school program where students create films, is focused on essential 21st century skills.

“Young people nowadays consume so much content and have so much screen time and we want to empower them to be the creators so that their voice is out there,” said Executive Director Aleks Martray. “We want them to develop digital media literacy so that they understand that behind everything they consume, there’s someone creating that content and there’s different motivations behind that.”

"We want them to develop digital media literacy."
Aleks Martray

Martray added that teaching young people to become creators and consumers can create more productive use of the internet and social media.

“For most students, it’s about the transferable skills. Collaboration, project management, compromise, role delegation, and how to find their voice,” he said. “It’s also about how you use your tech tools in a productive ways and how to communicate in a way that creates a constructive conversation.”

3. Hopeworks

At Hopeworks’ hub in Camden. (Courtesy photo)

Hopeworks is another program teaching life skills, this time through coding, data-mapping, and website creation. Thousands of youth from the region have received digital skills training at the Camden organization since 2000. Valerie Buickerood, director of engagement and communications, said preparing Hopeworks’ 17-25 year olds to learn on their own is important.

“We live in a digital age. Almost every career moving forward will require that you have some type of coding skills or at least have a strong sense of technology,” she said. “Our environment is definitely a learn-to-learn environment. Our kids are encouraged to learn what they need to know on their own.”

Hopeworks also weaves in trauma training for each student.

“We work with young people who have experienced adversity and help them understand how trauma may have hurt them in the past and may have impeded their ability to succeed in school and in job training,” Buickerood said. “Everybody gets impacted by trauma in some way, so understanding what people bring with them into the workplace is an important skill in a social and emotional context.”

She added that though many Hopeworks students do not go into the tech industry, they’ve built confidence from learning content-creation skills that will help them develop their voice in the future.

“Many of our kids want to get into the music industry or something creative,” she said. “They learn how to use digital media as a way to convey those ideas about who they are.”


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