Native Challenge, a department within Riverside-San Bernardino County Indian Health Inc., has several programs that are geared to the younger generation. Discovery Dating, which recently began its third year at Noli Indian School at the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians Reservation, is about making sound choices and striving to meet goals.
This year’s eighth-grade students learned about the program in September when facilitators Amanda “Mandy” McMorris and Rachelle Peterson provided an overview of how the 14-week program is structured.
“This class is not just about how to date,” McMorris told the students during the first day of instruction. “You will learn about relationships and also learn about yourself. You will learn how to set goals and other things that can have long-term effects on your entire life because of the choices you make now.”
A dozen students in Molly Hickerson’s class devote their 45-minute science time each Friday to the sessions.
“This will help them as students and as people,” Hickerson said. “They tweak it every year to make improvements and it meets our new science standards.”
The healthy relationship curriculum guides youth to explore and clarify personal goals and values, discover character traits of others and practice decision making in a group-based learning setting. The course was developed as part of Native Challenge’s Tribal Prep Personal Responsibility Education Program.
“The good thing about this program is you will set goals for yourself and know what you want and how to get there,” McMorris said.
Each student was given a personal workbook that will last throughout the course and explains each lesson in detail. McMorris explained that mindfulness will teach them methods of taking care of themselves and how to focus on what’s in front of them.
Page six of the workbook provides an example of how using all five senses on a walk will help someone feel less stressful and happier.
“Mindfulness will help you not worry about everything that goes on in your lives and how to stay in the moment,” McMorris said. “There are a lot of different activities you can do to help you cope with stress and how to handle different emotions.”
Geneva Mojado, who has been with RSBCIHI for almost five years, is another Health Educator with the Native Challenge Program that visits the schools.
“We are all trained in the curricula we teach. For Discovery Dating we traveled to Green Bay, Wisconsin to attend a training facilitated by the Wise Women Gathering Place,” she said. “There we met the curriculum developer, Alice Skenandore, an Oneida elder.”
Skenandore is a Native American midwife who created the program from a grassroots women’s circle that met for eight years around her kitchen table along with their children. The women discussed and studied many different topics and sometimes would help each other through problems. Over time, Skenandore found herself talking more about relationships and how many individuals had made mistakes and misjudgments that left them with big problems. She was able to sort out and clarify all the elements in a relationship that required attention, before any life-changing decisions were made.
“The students are continuously asking questions about the various topics we teach,” Mojado said. “Also, the relationships we make with the students makes it easier for them to come to Native Challenge staff if issues arise.”
While the course’s overall focus is on healthy relationships and reducing and preventing domestic violence, lessons cover different types of bonds such as family and friendships.
“The curriculum also covers topics that explore personal values and identity,” Mojado said. “We have culturally adapted the curriculum this year and added a cultural component with each lesson.”
Mojado said the program, designed for middle and high school Native American students, has been widely accepted at many venues. In addition to Noli, it is currently being taught at San Jacinto and Banning high schools, Sherman Indian School, several Tribal TANF sites and Desert Sage, a youth residential treatment center.
“Creating relationships with our various partners as well as MOUs to create and fulfill the needs of the grant-funded program allows us to ensure continued support from school districts and parents,” Mojado said. “Additionally, parents are notified of services offered through parent nights and letters home.”
Native Challenge also offers workshops throughout the school year on topics such as empathy building, personal hygiene and teen dating violence.
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