tewa women united A'GIN project Healthy Sexuality and Body Sovereignty: Part TWO of THREE

"The Corn Model taught me that I can make decisions to help me in the future. I can put people that I look up to first, rather than the people who might be not good to be with."
"This program helps, encourages, and helps you [tell] right from wrong. It’s a program that you should join."
"A'Gin means a lot to me. It taught me about saying no to peer pressure. It also taught me to be the best person I could be and to always follow my dreams."

Over the past five years, more than 300 young men and women of Native American heritage have participated in an innovative program designed and delivered by Tewa Women United. In this series of three presentations, we at i2i Institute -- evaluators since the program's outset in 2011 -- share a retrospective view of program progress and outcomes with TWU and their community supporters.


Building on the solid foundation of the Discovery Dating curriculum, Tewa Women United enhanced the program with adulthood preparation elements and grounded it in Tewa language, values and traditions.

Young people growing up in the Tewa homelands experience more than their share of life's stressors and challenges. High rates of poverty in the region, racial and ethnic tensions, the widespread availability of drugs and alcohol, the effects of historical and generational trauma, and other significant risk factors increase their vulnerability and can present obstacles to healthy development.

The Tribal PREP grant offered Tewa Women United the opportunity to address these issues on multiple scales. Through the A'Gin programming, they help youth cohorts develop resilience so they might deal more successfully with the challenges they face. Expanding beyond the curriculum, the program encourages community- and system-level changes that support and protect young people.

In collaboration with a wide range of community members, TWU developed this model to represent the matrix of supports, values and aims of the A'Gin Project.

The TWU A'Gin Healthy Sexuality and Body Sovereignty Project began with a year devoted to needs assessment, capacity building, and program planning. Dozens of community members lent their time, understanding and expertise to the effort, and over a hundred young people contributed their voices by participating in surveys and focus groups.

High rates of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections are among the concerns the program seeks to address, but the planning committee identified other equally important areas in which to support Tewa youth as they progress through adolescence. After a thorough review of the list of evidence based curricula recommended by the funders, TWU ultimately selected an alternative option, Discovery Dating, as the best match, and embarked on a comprehensive effort to adapt and enhance it for Tewa youth.

"I think the dreams and goals was the best part… because you get to set your goal for yourself. Your short term goals and your long term goals. And you try to accomplish it."
Identifying students' dreams and goals is an essential element of Discovery Dating, but nearly every lesson of the curriculum has been adapted and enhanced with Tewa language, imagery, values and traditions.

Discovery Dating is a healthy relationship development tool created by Native American midwife Alice Skenadore. Developed to provide Native youth aged 11-14 with the opportunity to explore their personal values, discern character traits in others, and practice informed decision making, the curriculum was designed for and has been successfully implemented in Native (Oneida) communities. Young people receive guidance and build skills to prepare for adulthood, and have safe opportunities to process many of their challenges and make healthy decisions. It has been effective at reducing teen pregnancy and addressing many of the same challenges faced in Tewa speaking communities.

Discovery Dating aims to increase personal agency and self-efficacy in participants.

For the A'Gin Project, students met with TWU-trained facilitators for seventeen lessons. Session scheduling was flexible and largely dependent on the host setting. Some cohorts met once a week for 90 minutes and completed two lessons in each meeting; others met once or twice a week for a single class period (45-55 minutes) and focused on one lesson.

Lessons combine experiential exercises with discussion, reflective writing, and other modes of learning.

The original Discovery Dating curriculum included engaging, experiential lessons on discerning character traits, setting and achieving goals, exploring decision-making, actions and consequences, and more. Working with Planned Parenthood, TWU added medically-accurate lessons about human anatomy, adolescent development, and age-appropriate sex ed.

Perhaps most significantly, TWU staff -- with the dedicated participation of the Sayaa-in, the Circle of Grandmothers, and cultural consultants -- developed and refined specific content to ground the youth in their cultural history, tradition and strengths.

Tewa values and pueblo life ways are at the heart of the A'Gin Project

Cultural grounding is central to the A'Gin Project theory of change in three ways. First, it can serve as a general protective factor. Research suggests that young people who feel supported by their communities and secure in their cultural identity will be better equipped to face the risks and challenges that adulthood brings.

Second, cultural grounding is crucial to effective teaching about the physical, emotional, and social changes of adolescence. The A'Gin Project incorporates Tewa language to describe these changes and honors Tewa traditions addressing the passage to adulthood.

Third, indigenous people face specific challenges rooted in historical trauma and its generational legacy. These challenges can stand in the way of developing healthy relationships and personal resiliency. Conscious steps toward healing are necessary to replace the negative effects of historical trauma with positive alternative paths.

"The question is always resiliency. How do women, children, men, communities who have faced devastating experiences ... continue to find the strength and commitment to move on, and not bring in the anger, the shame, or the guilt? That's the thing we want to pass on to our children. Dr. Martin Luther King and others talk about that love. How do we really grow that love for ourselves and for community and for people who aren't like us?" -- Corrine Sanchez
Guided by Tewa cultural consultants, TWU enhanced the Discovery Dating curriculum with three culturally-specific lessons: the Corn Model, the Butterfly Model, and Trauma Rocks.

While the entire A'Gin curriculum in adapted and infused with Tewa language and beliefs, these three modules focus specifically on cultural learnings. They present students with practical models and methods to help them successfully negotiate their lives as indigenous people in a diverse context.

The CORN MODEL roots students in an awareness of their place in the cycle of life, confirming their value and gently asserting the importance of good decision-making.
The BUTTERFLY MODEL teaches Two-World Harmony, leading students to understand the various circles of identity they inhabit. It guides them toward effective ways to maintain their wholeness in the midst of multiple, sometimes contradictory ways of being.
TRAUMA ROCKS offers students a way to look at historical genocide and its contemporary effects. It focuses on positive healing strategies and fosters a generous attitude toward self and others.

Having a trusted adult to talk with is an important protective factor for young people, too, but intergenerational trauma and related stressors can impair relationships between youth and the important adults in their lives. The A'Gin Project engages families in the program through parent out-sessions and other methods, and includes mentorship as an important aspect. While most parents find it challenging to discuss sexuality and the physical and emotional changes of adolescence with their children, A'Gin Project seeks to encourage and ease these conversations by providing medically accurate information in a culturally appropriate context.

Interviewer: "So, if somebody had not been through the class and you were going to tell them the most important things that you learned from it, what would those things be?"

In program years four and five, evaluation efforts focused on measuring changes in cultural connectedness among participants.

"When I [began the lesson], I started with something tangible, some pottery with a little bit of water. The students — I didn’t have to say anything, or even instruct them, they immediately all drank some water and then passed it around the class carefully, almost like a family. I let them know [that] ... this is how it was presented to me when I have an adult talk with my family members or with people older than me. They sat me down with a glass of water, pottery water, and let me know that this talk/discussion is going to be very important and [I could] brace myself with water. It’s rejuvenating. ... They understood that. The lesson was easy to grasp for them. That was one of my "aha" moments, when a student said, 'It’s such a good feeling to drink that water.'" -- A'Gin facilitator

Collectively, students showed improvement in 13 of the 16 measures of cultural connectedness between program entry and exit. Although sample size precludes establishing statistical significance, the observed trends carry through to students' narrative responses as well.

The change in student responses to the Multi-Ethnic Identity Measure, Revised (MEIM-R) showed a clear increase, pre- to post-program, in students' sense of belonging.
The Awareness of Connectedness Scale measured 12 items; students showed gains pre- to post-program in 8 of them.
Students benefited from having elders -- like Kathy Sanchez of San Ildefonso Pueblo, pictured above -- present for some sessions. Kathy is one of the founders of Tewa Women United and is the creator of the Butterfly Model.
"A Tewa Grandma came in to read stories, but then she [burst] out in a Tewa song. All the girls put down their forks and were so thankful. ... She wanted to share the spirit with the girls." -- A'Gin Facilitator
Specific adulthood preparation topics include healthy relationships of balanced power and control, increased communication with trusted adults, celebration of adolescent growth and development, and healthy life skills.

Survey responses showed that participating students feel themselves under tremendous stress. High rates of suicide, self-harm, relationship violence, and substance abuse among youth in the region reflect the multiple challenges local young people must navigate. Although students leave the A'Gin program still feeling the burden of stress, they've learned or acknowledged various coping skills and increased their resiliency in numerous ways.

"Would you say that being in the program has made you more likely, about the same, or less likely to..."
Survey results show 75% of students perceive themselves "more likely" or "much more likely" to make positive choices post-program in 7 of 12 areas.

Students still see themselves challenged by managing stress, addressing conflict, and talking about things that matter with parents or guardians. Still, more than half of the students surveyed felt they had improved in these areas after participating in A'Gin.

The A'Gin Project offers young people of the Tewa homelands the chance to build skills and gain important information in a safe, structured and culturally-grounded setting.

To learn more about Tewa Women United's A'Gin Project, please explore these companion reports by clicking the buttons below.

The mission of Tewa Women United is to provide safe spaces for indigenous women to uncover the power, strength and skills they possess to become positive forces for social change in their families and communities. Learn more about TWU by visiting their website, below, or contact them at info@tewawomenunited.org.
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