S.A.P.O. Revitalizing a culture of substance abuse prevention

our Substance Abuse Prevention Organism (S.A.P.O.)

The idea of anthropomorphic teachers are a common element in many indigenous communities to teach about origins, values, and culture. This same archetype can be seen in youth culture. The popularity of cartoon anime helped us understand the power of creating a character that is cute, intelligent, and happy. We based our S.A.P.O. character off Pokémon, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Hello Kitty, and Pepe the frog. This allowed us to expand our marketing efforts through merchandising, character story development and social media. We also intentionally developed this character with the youth because when you co-create a program together there is shared ownership, accountability, and excitement. With our character in place, we began to develop our core activities including peer education, data analysis and messaging using positive community norms.


The NACA Substance Abuse Prevention Office (S.A.P.O.) is a school and community wide effort to reduce substance abuse amongst youth at NACA

NACA S.A.P.O. unites the community to plan and implement strategies that prevent and reduce substance use and its consequences among NACA youth.

WE PROVIDE FACTS, STATS, AND REACH OUT to students and families through community events, classes and through media strategies done in collaboration with youth and parents.

about NACA

The Native American Community Academy (NACA) is a tuition-free public charter school serving students in middle and high school located in Albuquerque New Mexico. NACA’s student body is diverse with many cultural and ethnic backgrounds represented, including students from more than 37 different tribes.

REDUCING UNDERAGE DRINKING through collaboration and communication

(A1d ATOD policies at schools: cultural adaptations) (A4d adapted Positive Social Norms: cultural adaptations) (A5e adapted Parenting Skill Building/ Strengthening Families: cultural adaptations)

From left to right: Kateri Eisenberg from the Center for Law and Poverty helping review our ATOD Policy with Student Support Services Director Maria Brock A4D (April 21st), S.A.P.O. presentation to Mrs Dorthy Sando's yearbook class to collaborate on our first S.A.P.O. Pop-Up party AD4 (September 9th), S.A.P.O. Pop-Up at NACA Basketball game and recruited Sally Hollow Horn to help with family programing A5E (February 16th), Ms Whisper sharing our # campaign with teachers after our ATOD and prescription presentation A4D (March 30th)

Co-creating Positive NACA Norms with the Indigenous Girls Wellness Classes

This year S.A.P.O. utilized a modified Positive Community Norms approach to create a media campaign with Ms. Whisper’s Indigenous Girls Wellness Class. This approach utilizes Spirit, Science, and Action to create youth-led messaging that focuses on positive factors that help prevent substance abuse. We analyzed school-wide data with youth and taught the difference between a concern and a NORM. For instance, it is a concern that 11.4% of NACA youth reported drinking in the last month but the NORM is that nearly 90% of our youth didn’t. We are honored to present to you the messages created by the students in the Indigenous Wellness Class. We invite you to take action to help make our community a healthy, happy, and safe place.

Slide from our Positive NACA Norms Presentation AD4 (February 21st)

Positive NACA Norms Messages developed by Youth

We turned our messaging campaign into a creative competition where students created their own positive community norms. We were able to design these messages by going through an iterative process where we collected over 50+ messages then voted on our favorites to share with a group of parents. These parents chose the top 3 messages that they felt would best resonate with parents and students, included relevant data, and promoted a positive action. The designs were digitized and edited with three junior interns. They were evaluated by parents and finalized and printed to be distributed by students.

Through our work with the Indigenous Girls Wellness class we have better buy-in from our wellness teachers who want to implement earlier in the school year which will allow us to get out more messages and earlier in the year.

We will continue to utilize our @nacasapo Instagram with a monthly message that is designed by a student for the 2017/2018 school year. NACA has decided to use the Positive Norms style for all of its messaging including attendance, behavior and core values. We will also work with language and culture classes to integrate Diné, Lakota, Tewa, Keres and Zuni into our messaging plan.

From left to right: Parent convening to select messages to share with the NACA community (February 22), NACA S.A.P.O presentation to incoming 6th graders (June 28th), Debut of Banner PCN Messages with student artist (May 4th)


We planned and implemented 4 S.A.P.O. Pop-up parties and other events where we disseminated take home packets with information on risks of prescription painkillers, as well as tips to safely store, monitor, and dispose prescription and OTC drugs. We also brought local Indigenous musicians and artist to preform for students and share their own stories around the importance of living a healthy life free of drugs and alcohol. We also gave out prizes such a live-printed t-shirts and posters to attract more student engagement.

Students showing their live printed posters that were given out at our S.A.P.O. Pop-Up (Feb 9th)
Prizes that were given out during our Pop-up events
We communicate a simple message to engage parents about prescription drugs: Secure, Monitor, and Dispose
#knowrx Parent Handout R3A ADAPTED


(R3A & R3B)

35+ Lockboxes given out to NACA caretakers Distributed | 50+ Pill Can Kill Handbooks (donated by Mckinley County)

Promoting Peer education and mentorship

When you know better, then you do better. each one, teach one, come together

-the Get Down Brothers

We were able to build authentic relationships with students and parents to insure our messages were well received and culturally resonant. S.A.P.O. allowed us to tap into the reality of young people by showing your own creativity through our prevention work. These messages resonated with young people because it is something students can relate to and imagine doing themselves. Utilizing youth as creative consultants amplifies their self-determination and enhances their skills through the process.

Example of Instagram posts created by students

Youth-Led Prevention Efforts

In April and May, S.A.P.O. helped plan an event with both the NACA Youth Council as well with the Hiyupo boys group. The purpose of this event was to engage youth and communities around authentic culturally responsive teaching, food, music, storytelling and cultural arts to help prevent drug and alcohol abuse.

Flyer designed by S.A.P.O. Intern Randy Felipe (17)
“We know our project made a big difference in our community because people had the positivity to encourage and support our youth to be drug and alcohol free. Over 200+ people participated in the activities we had at May the 4th Be With Youth event. We allowed for people to speak about what’s important to them and no one hesitated to show how our event had motivated them to do better. This motivation will spread around our community and hype up the students. We are excited for next year to do more events and prevention activities “
-Paolina Vasquez-Gomez (17) S.A.P.O. Intern

S.A.P.O. Pop-Up Parties

We developed of educational materials and broadly distributed at 4 SAPO pop-up parties, 2 sports activities, 5 community activities, and shared these events 2 times via the NACA Prevention Facebook page reaching 977+ people

Transforming the school to prison pipeline

During March and April, we worked with an 8th grader named Darin Harrison to create a film about alternative ways to discipline students using a restorative justice approach. We worked with students to do research on the topic and conduct in-person interviews to explore the perspectives and knowledge of restorative justice in his community. Without having a videography class, Darin had to dedicate hours after school to complete the assignment.

The film follows a student that gets in trouble at school. Instead of the teacher instantly punishing the student, she starts a conversation with him and decides to go an alternative route. The film was shown to teachers and school officials across the institution, and policy around restorative justice was discussed on an administrative level.

“The Journey Between Two Paths.” Darin, an 8th grader at NACA, focused on the topic of restorative justice, and delivered such a powerful piece that it ultimately changed the way our community looked at the topic.

This project ultimately helped modify our ATOD Policy (A4D)


Hiyupo means ‘follow me’ in Lakota. Every Thursday, Hiyupo begins with mindful breathing. The boys get to share their highs and lows of the week. They learn about internship opportunities, and they participate in community engagement projects, like maintaining gardens, cleaning classrooms, and helping local farms.

From very young ages, boys of color are disadvantaged if they don’t gain opportunities for growth. Programs, such as Hiyupo, address this problem by breaking down the barriers that these boys experience compared to other racial groups.


Our Indigenous research methodology essentially incorporates Indigenous scholarship from UNM Professor and Director of Native American Studies, Dr. Greg Cajete. We modified his stages of visioning into our process of seeking knowledge, wisdom and innovation. We went through a seven-stage process of Asking, Seeking, Making, Having, Sharing, Celebrating and Being. Each stage represents levels of understanding through collaborative planning, gathering information and dialogue with diverse stakeholders.

"From a planner's perspective, it was really interesting to see this whole collective impact strategy happening around prevention. I'm really excited to see what we can do next year to share our work and make sure we engage as many people as possible through innovative stories in different media and perspectives. The idea of of integrating stories in to our prevention evaluation work can be seen as an innovation and a way to incorporate our Indigenous cultures into our work. This is something that many generations have been working towards. I think for young people, it's kind of a reawakening of the importance of social and environmental justice and how prevention work can help us make a direct impact on those we serve by being living models that promote whole health and well being. What does our story mean in the context of substance abuse? I feel like creativity is understood across generations and when cultivated, it can unlock an infinite potential of hope and happiness that ultimately can be the best protective factor against substance abuse"

-Henry Jake Foreman M.C.R.P. NACA Prevention Team

About Storytelling for Changemakers

The Storytelling for Changemakers program (led by Ashoka Youth Venture and Start Empathy) sparked and supported the building of this SAPO story. Through one-on-one and online training, we were able to exercise the changemaker skills of empathy, collaboration, leadership, and communication with our students and have them take the lead in documenting our work to share with broader audiences. NACA is part of the Ashoka Changemaker Schools network through the Ashoka Start Empathy initiative and we hope to share and see more stories in our network. NACA were among the pilot schools of Youth Venture's 'Storytelling for Changemakers' program in 2016, and it has opened up doors for how to deepen changemaker identities at school, and how to be loud speakers to our community of what our changemaker community is up to!

Authors: Makhpiya Black Elk (blackelk@nacaschool.org) and Henry Jake Foreman (foreman@nacaschool.org)

A contributing resource to the program was the Storytelling for Changemaker Program


Henry Jake Foreman

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