"I realize that I want to be somebody who carries on the traditions and stories in our communities."
"I liked going to this program. I felt special and important. This program has taught me about how my body works, my reproductive organs, and how to better know about and take care of myself as a woman."
"I am more aware of the physical and emotional effects from making certain decisions."
By infusing the curriculum with Tewa language, customs, and history, and by incorporating mentorship, experiential learning practices, community-based activities and parental involvement, Executive Director Corrine Sanchez and her team at Tewa Women United developed a program that would tackle some of the most pressing challenges for young people in a strengths-based and trauma-informed way.
"This is a good program and may give you information your parents don't talk about." —Youth Participant
Through a competitive funding process, Tewa Women United was awarded one of sixteen grants funded by a five-year Tribal Personal Responsibility Education Program (PREP) grant from the Family and Youth Services Bureau of the U.S. Health and Human Services Department. Grantees—tribes as well as tribal organizations—are found in nine states, and those selected must participate in a rigorous planning process before implementing their programs with youth.
Initially formulated by the funders as a teen pregnancy prevention program, the grant focus has broadened to recognize and support many factors that contribute to youth resiliency and sexual and reproductive health. (Crucially, TWU accepts, supports and honors the young people whose life paths include early parenthood, as well as those who choose to wait.) A'Gin Project youth are encouraged to become involved with the leadership component, which supports program participants to engage in service learning and to become effective advocates for their own health and well-being, as well as that of their families and communities. Young people have the opportunity to train as youth facilitators, furthering their understanding of the program elements and gaining valuable experience as peer educators.
"Including older kids as a part of the teaching team was new and innovative, and allowed [students] to open up on personal stuff."— Teacher at host school, who mentioned that one youth facilitator had decided to pursue teaching as a career path because of her experience with the A'Gin program.
TWU's steadfast insistence that the program be responsive to the specific needs of Tewa youth—rather than pledge fidelity to a rigid, narrowly adapted curriculum designed for other populations—resulted in permission to adopt a curriculum not included on the list of approved, evidence based interventions. Discovery Dating, an exemplary curriculum developed by Alice Skenandore, a Native American midwife, and her colleagues at Wise Woman Gathering Place, forms the solid core. The TWU team worked with Tewa cultural consultants to enhance and adapt the curriculum before implementing it, and have continued to augment and refine the lessons as they proceed.
Many of the students who participate have mixed heritage and diverse life experiences. While 94% of students surveyed are Native American, nearly a third also claim Hispanic heritage. Fewer than 10% of students also selected African-American, Pacific Islander or White/Caucasian as part of their ancestry. Helping students explore the beauty and challenges of identity is a central element of the project.
"We went into conversation about how can you be in the western world and still have [indigenous] cultural backing along with Spanish descent? It's okay to be who you are and be proud. A lot of students gravitated toward that.”—A’Gin Facilitator
Students are guided to reflect on what matters to them, to identify supports, and to consider various strategies for making good decisions and dealing with stressful events and situations.
Collectively, students showed gains in more than three quarters (78%) of the cultural connectedness measures after participating in the program. Particularly notable were students' increased sense of belonging and of being valued by community.
Eight schools and two community venues have hosted cohorts over the four years of implementation.
- Española Valley High School (2 cohorts)
- Carlos Vigil Middle School (2 cohorts)
- Pojoaque High School (2 cohorts)
- Pojoaque Middle School (2 cohorts)
- Santa Fe Indian School High (5 cohorts)
- Santa Fe Indian School Middle (1 cohort)
- Walatowa Charter High School (2 cohorts)
- Ohkay Owingeh Community School (3 cohorts)
- Tewa Women United offices (2 cohorts)
- Nambe Pueblo Wellness Center (1 cohort)
A'GIN PROJECT, # STUDENTS BY SETTING
While a few cohorts were exclusively female, most were mixed gender.
Both high school and middle school students participated. Student age at program exit ranged from 11 to 18. Eighth graders and high school freshmen—those aged 14 and 15—were most heavily represented.
We asked students, "How has being in the A'Gin program changed the way you think about healthy sexuality and body sovereignty?"
While some students could not point to a specific change, many others focused on increased knowledge about how to protect their bodies, how to make positive life choices, and how to treat others—and expect to be treated—in relationship.
Thoughtful, informed and medically accurate information about adolescent development and healthy sexuality is not readily available to students in their schools and communities. The A'Gin Project fills an important need.
Two thirds of students surveyed indicated that participating in the program had reduced the likelihood that they would have sexual intercourse in the next 6 months. While this outcome is not the program's specific intent, it may indicate increased personal agency and greater thoughtfulness around behavioral choices.