Media Literacy

16,330 Schools Wrap Up Media Literacy Program to Build Empathy

Hundreds of thousands of students across the United States have been busy reading news articles that highlight different perspectives and lived experiences, as part of the “A Mile in Our Shoes” program by Newsela, a literacy company and news platform.

A Mile in Our Shoes was designed to foster empathy and inclusivity in K–12 students through reading about “people of varying backgrounds, skin colors, religions, sexual orientations, socioeconomic statuses and nations of origin,” according to the program website. Newsela told THE Journal that more than 278,000 students from 16,330 schools completed more than 12 million articles and nearly 500,000 quizzes since it kicked off Feb. 8.   

For A Mile in Our Shoes, Newsela curated more than 160 articles into Text Sets that organize news stories by topic:

Each of the Text Sets offers discussion questions about identity, diversity, justice and action. To explore diversity, for example, students are asked to identify how individuals in a particular story collection differ from each other. To engage them in taking action, students are asked what they can do to support communities in story collection.

Users can sort through Text Sets by reading skill level, language (English and Spanish) and content provider. The Associated Press, Bloomberg, Scientific American, NASA and History.com all contributed content to the program, to name a few organizations.   

To help bring the program to classrooms, Newsela teamed up with Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center that works to reduce prejudice and helps support equitable school experiences, and Define American, a nonprofit media and culture organization focused on shifting mainstream conversations about immigrants, identity and citizenship. Both organizations assisted in developing teacher resources and strategies for incorporating the Newsela stories. The “Building Empathy in Classrooms” webinar with Teaching Tolerance, for instance, helped equip more than 2,250 teachers with tools to promote inclusivity and understanding in the classroom.

As part of the program, Newsela partnered with DonorsChoose, a nonprofit organization that connects teachers in high-need communities with donors, to fund projects related to diversity and inclusivity. The way it works is that Newsela donates to a project when a certain level of articles are completed, with articles part of the A Mile in Our Shoes Text Sets worth double. (Articles are considered “completed” when a student finishes the multiple choice quiz associated with it.)

To date, Newsela has donated $10,000 to 25 projects. Most recently, the company funded “Promoting Empathy Through Literature,” a campaign started by a fifth-grade elementary school teacher in Arleta, CA. The teacher wrote that her students lack access to some materials that students in the magnet program at the school have, and started a fundraiser to purchase 30 copies of a book that she could use to teach her students empathy.

In addition, Newsela handed out prizes throughout the reading drive, which concluded April 20. Schools that had the highest number of articles completed in a specific time frame were given awards and prizes.

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