This fall, hundreds of American Indian youth living in the southwestern United States will set out to develop a host of important life skills, from analyzing the nutrition facts on food packaging to confronting stressful situations.
While their goals may seem challenging, they will have the time, space, and support necessary to achieve them, thanks to the NativeVision after school program. The program, which is overseen by the Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health, offers a 12-session curriculum to students in kindergarten through 12th grade.
NativeVision works with the White Mountain Apache Tribe, the Santo Domingo Pueblo, and the Navajo Nation and is currently operating in five different communities, one of which – Tuba City, AZ – is offering the program for the first time this fall to over 400 children.
Focus Placed on Physical and Mental Well-Being
NativeVision focuses on improving students’ physical fitness, dietary choices, and academic progress, increasing their sense of connectedness to their communities and cultures, and bolstering their self-esteem and vision for the future. The lessons are taught in an interactive manner with participating youth engaging in activities related to the themes of the different sessions.
For instance, in Shiprock, NM, students recently imagined a scenario in which they went into town for lunch, a movie, and dinner and then estimated the total number of calories that they would have consumed. In another session, they physically measured the sugar contained in a variety of beverages and taste-tested water infused with strawberries, lemons and other fruits. Afterward, they went home with the assignment to discuss what they had learned during the session with their parents.
At Santo Domingo Elementary School, students have worked on their physical fitness in a variety of ways, ranging from basketball and volleyball in the gym to hiking outdoors (even learning about navigation in the process). They have also learned about the farming background of the Santo Domingo Pueblo and worked in a greenhouse. Site coordinator Daniel Nieto was particularly pleased that the fifth graders he worked with last spring now intend to return and assist with the program as sixth graders.
“They want to do more, they want to help,” Nieto said.
A Much-Needed Program
Statistics show that American Indians suffer from poorer health outcomes and educational status than other groups in the U.S. Forty-one percent of American Indian school-age youth are obese, and Native youth have diabetes rates more than two times higher than the U.S. general population. Furthermore, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, American Indians and Alaskan Natives are also less likely to earn a bachelor’s degree or higher than their non-Native counterparts.
NativeVision is an innovative, strengths-based approach that is addressing this critical situation and building a better future for American Indians and their communities. The Johns Hopkins Center is honored to be part of this solution and looks forward to replicating the NativeVision after school program in tribal communities across the country in the coming years.
The response of children to the program was reflected in a number of thank-you letters from last year’s participants.
Mandi from the Santo Domingo site wrote that “the lessons are fun because they deal with things in everyday life such as problem solving, how to be healthy, getting into my happy zone (and) exercising.”