|Lizbeth Morales, a 6th-grader at MS 57/James Weldon Johnson Leadership Academy in East Harlem, snaps a photo of the garbage in the school cafeteria. (Photo by Meredith W. Goncalves)
News Literacy Student Projects: Building and Reflecting New Skills
Students researched such close-to-home issues as school crime and school lunches in Chicago and New York City as part of their News Literacy Project units this spring.
Their efforts included filing requests under public records acts to obtain such revealing documents as school spending figures and cafeteria inspection reports.
Unlocking such information “is kind of like a secret vault that I could go into," said Jalilah Sultan, a senior at Chicago’s Kenwood Academy, who requested reports about pest control at her school. "I definitely have more of an appreciation for the work that goes into getting information for a story."
The students undertook their research as part of their concluding NLP projects. Every student in a classroom or after-school unit completes a project that builds on and reflects NLP’s core concepts, including empowering youth to think critically about issues that matter to them and seeking out credible information.
At Kenwood Academy, journalism students filed 17 requests under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), seeking information from Chicago Public Schools about such topics as crime in the school, art department funding and cafeteria spending. The FOIA officer has denied some requests, requested extensions on some of them and redirected others.
The Kenwood students learned how to file the requests from journalists with the Better Government Association, a Chicago-based government watchdog group. NLP journalist fellows have given similar lessons at Perspectives Charter Academy/Joslin campus and Benito Juarez Community Academy.
In New York, 6th-grade students at MS 57/James Weldon Johnson Leadership Academy spent the semester researching school lunches and investigating their school’s cafeteria.
Working with more than two dozen journalists from Bloomberg News, the East Harlem middle-school students learned that New York City's Department of Education recently implemented changes to cafeteria menus outlined in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. Aimed at addressing the country's obesity epidemic, the revisions in the law mark the first time in 15 years that the USDA has changed nutrition standards for school lunches.
Students got to the bottom of the new nutrition standards, learned that the cafeteria must follow rules described in the city's health code and secured a copy of the latest health inspection report of the cafeteria, which showed no violations. They also interviewed the school principal, the school nurse, school lunch aides, award-winning cookbook author Rozanne Gold and fellow students.
Students created a multimedia website, “Food for Thought,” showcasing their research. This program was funded by Bloomberg LP.
In previous years, NLP students have done ambitious research projects on:
To see more photos and documents from this spring’s projects, click here.