Thursday, December 17, 2009

Alamo school promotes safety, health

By Nathalie Nance
For the Mountain Mail

ALAMO -- Since 2005, the Alamo Navajo School has been part of a national initiative called Safe Schools/Healthy Students in order to reduce violent behavior and improve health among its students. Recent data show that this initiative has already started to pay off, with a 30 percent reduction of violent behavior, according to the project director for Safe Schools/Healthy Students, Steve Mills.
The Alamo is a fairly isolated community, with a high occurrence of depression, and in many ways it fits the description of an “at risk” community, where violent incidents could occur. There are problems with drugs and alcohol, and the formation of gangs, which might substitute for a more positive kind of social network. Even so, the Alamo school has had no major incidents.
“We are lucky to have kids that are respectful towards one another and we have had few fights,” Mills said.
Nevertheless, the school is addressing these latent problems in a number of ways. The grant has been used to hire counselors, a child educator, a security guard and staff at the Wellness Center.
Another result of the initiative is an extensive emergency response program for the entire school, which didn’t exist earlier. Moreover, partnerships among the different institutions of the Alamo - the school, the health clinic and the administrative center - as well as with the Navajo Police and the court have been established. For instance, health professionals are invited to the school and drug treatment and behavioral health services are available to the students.
Most of the work improving safety and health, however, has been preventive. For example, teachers have organized a variety of activities for the students: wood working, cooking classes, Navajo weaving, Girls and Boy Scouts, among others. As Mills pointed out, the single most important issue when it comes to a young person’s mental health is a solid relationship with an adult that cares.
“We asked our students ‘Do you have some one to talk to?’ ” Mills said.
Before the Alamo school actively started working with the Safe Schools/Healthy Students initiative, hardly any one replied that they did; now seventy percent say they do.
Parents are welcome to come to the school with questions. Mills advises parents that they shouldn’t be afraid to get involved with their child’s life.
“Don’t stop, even if they say ‘Leave me alone!’ ”

Photo by Nathalie Nance: Steve Mills works with one of his students at the Alamo Navajo School.

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