Native Vision is an innovative youth development initiative operated by the Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health (JHCAIH). The program’s mission is to empower Native American youth to realize their full (physical, mental, emotional and spiritual) potential through the promotion of physical fitness, healthy nutrition, and positive life skills.
Native Vision began in 1996 as a summer sports and life skills camp, bringing together Native youth with collegiate and professional athletes who volunteer as mentors and coaches. Native Vision has evolved into a comprehensive year-round program including a structured in-school and after-school curriculum; regional sports and life skills camps; and participation in local community events promoting fitness and nutrition. The curriculum and program components were developed by JHCAIH in partnership with tribal communities in the Southwest, and the program has been packaged so that is available for replication by other tribal communities across the country.
- Culturally based nutrition, fitness and healthy life skills education for youth in grades 3-12 through an activity-based, experiential curriculum taught throughout the school year, either in-school or after school. Lesson topics include such things as goal setting, problem solving, good school habits, and bullying prevention.
- Lessons for parents so that they can reinforce the school-based sessions at home.
- Sports and life skills camps during school break periods. The intensive one-day camps are modeled after the original Native Vision summer camp and include sports clinics led by local coaches along with Native Vision professional and collegiate athlete volunteers, and life skills workshops using curriculum drawn from the school-based program.
- Participation in community events such as food demonstrations, gardening activities, and local runs/walks.
All Native Vision activities are monitored through regular feedback gathered from youth, parents and school staff. The impact of the program on participants’ knowledge, attitudes and behaviors is tracked through surveys, and the program is continually refined and enhanced based on evaluation findings.
Impact of COVID-19
In March 2020, all Native Vision school-based sessions and camps were paused due to the pandemic. As the pandemic persisted and most youth were doing remote schooling, there was an increasingly urgent need to support the physical and emotional well-being of children and adolescents, so the Native Vision team engaged youth with virtual content, using videos created by our staff as well as the national network of volunteer Native Vision coaches.
We created a You Tube channel that went live in August 2020 and houses interactive videos with Native Vision lesson content as well as fitness videos from the coaches. Content has been added throughout the 2020-2021 school year as new needs evolve and youth shared their feedback. We were glad to be able to support the physical and mental health of reservation-based youth in this way during these challenging times.
Plans for 2021-2022
Now more than ever, there is a need for culturally based wellness programming for Native American youth. Native Vision is poised to address the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual needs of youth as they return to school, grieve the family and community losses during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as celebrate the strength and resilience of Native communities throughout the past year.
As schools begin to reopen, our Native Vision staff is working with school administrators in 2 Navajo communities (Tuba City, AZ, and Shiprock, NM) and with the White Mountain Apache Tribe to resume the program. JHCAIH has been working intensively with the Navajo and White Mountain Apache communities to pilot approaches to ensure safe reopening of schools, and the lessons learned through this work will inform the safe implementation of Native Vision programming in the months ahead.
During the next year, additional content will be incorporated into the curriculum to support mental health and emotional well-being. Native Vision’s community-based staff members will hold listening sessions with youth to understand current challenges and opportunities, which will guide new content development for the program.