Help Asniya improve health outcomes for American Indian communities. Help Asniya

Hello from Chile! My name is Jean Junior, and I am in my fourth and final year at Harvard Medical School (HMS). I plan to start residency in pediatrics in June of 2016, and have a strong interest in poverty alleviation work and service to benefit the underserved. During one’s final year at HMS, there is more freedom to do rotations in different settings. Given this greater flexibility, I’m currently doing a family medicine rotation in Chile, and will do a rotation with Asniya in March of 2016 at the Porcupine Day School in South Dakota.

I first heard about Asniya during a lunch talk for HMS students given by Asniya’s founder, Dr. Miles Cunningham. Hearing him talk about the Native American Indian communities served by Asniya was incredibly compelling. I was most struck by hearing about the challenges faced by young people in these communities, and the rates of suicide among these children/adolescents. The potential to inspire greater hope among these young people, and possibly even have a more lasting impact on their lives, was the most important factor in my decision to intern with Asniya. Plus, I quite simply find teaching to be incredibly fun. I have taught subjects ranging from English to algebra, from physics to dance, and have taught students ranging in age from toddlers to adults. Each of these experiences has been wonderful, and I greatly enjoy witnessing the wisdom, humor, and creativity of young people. I know I will find these qualities among the students I teach through Asniya at the Porcupine Day School. And I am excited to use all that I have learned during my years in medical school to provide students with information that will be useful and empowering to them and their communities. I just hope that I can provide educational sessions that will be organized, engaging, and fun, and that will keep the attention of a class of students!

Overall, I am confident that serving at Asniya will be a great experience, and am excited to meet the students with whom I will be working. As mentioned in my previous blog post, I am in my final year of Harvard Medical School, and was scheduled to do a rotation with Asniya this past month at the Porcupine Day School on the Pine Ridge Native American Indian reservation in South Dakota. I am posting now after spending several incredible weeks teaching health sciences to three classes of students (6th, 7th, and 8th grades) at Porcupine.

My time in South Dakota flew by. During my first full day in South Dakota, I visited the Porcupine School, talked with the science teacher with whom I would be working, and got a whirlwind overview of life on the reservation. I was lucky to have a lot of freedom in shaping my own curriculum. Thus, I spent my first week in South Dakota planning what I would teach; shadowing in the 6th, 7th, and 8th grade science classes I would be teaching; getting supplies for my class; and organizing clinical shadowing opportunities for myself at local Indian Health Service (IHS) and non-IHS health centers. During my second week in South Dakota, I started teaching at Porcupine, and began with a focus on cardiovascular health, with activities and discussion about diseases such as diabetes, heart attacks, and strokes, and how to prevent these through methods such as good nutrition and exercise. During my third week in South Dakota, I did a unit on sexual health education with the students, which covered the anatomy and physiology of the reproductive system, characteristics of healthy and unhealthy relationships, birth control, and sexually transmitted infections. During my fourth week in South Dakota, I only had a few classroom sessions with students due to Easter Holidays, a snow day, and other school events. However, I got to review previously covered topics and do some teaching on substance abuse and the brain. On the last day of class, each student also received a stethoscope and a certificate of achievement.

During my time in South Dakota, I also did several activities outside of teaching and lesson planning. I volunteered during the evenings for at a local substance use prevention program to strengthen family relationships and prevent risky adolescent behavior. I did clinical shadowing at IHS and non-IHS hospitals and clinics to get a better sense of the health system faced by Native Americans. Finally, I was interviewed on Kili Radio, a wonderful local radio station on the Pine Ridge reservation.

I learned a lot during my time in South Dakota and strengthened my skills as a teacher and future physician. I have done various teaching and tutoring activities in the past. However, my experience at Porcupine was unique. I had three classes of about 20 students each – one of the largest student-teacher ratios I have managed. Furthermore, the students had varying levels of extroversion, literacy, and baseline interest in science.

Thus, I really focused on how to make lessons engaging for my diverse audience of students, keeping in mind the attention spans of middle schoolers. With this perspective, I learned how to make almost any lesson interactive and hands-on – from bringing in healthy snacks to teach about nutrition, to dissecting a buffalo heart and doing IV insertion on balloon veins, to having the students practice proper condom use with popsicles and practice seizure first aid through a staged convulsion I had one day in class. One of my favorite activities was when the students learned to do CPR. The students walked around two CPR mannequins to background music of their choosing. When I switched the background music to the song “Stayin’ Alive” (which marks well the pace at which chest compressions should be done), the student closest to each mannequin had to start doing chest compressions. When I shouted “AED,” the students had to rush to grab a simulated automated external defibrillator and give their patient a shock! The students loved these hands-on activities, and it was always rewarding to get the thumbs up sign of approval from them at the end of class.

In addition to what I learned in the classroom, I also learned more than I had ever known before about life on a Native American Indian reservation: How vast the reservation is, with large stretches of land between houses and communities that make transport an expensive and challenging endeavor. How, despite the fact that Pine Ridge is one of the poorest areas in the nation, there are still numerous people leading stable, productive lives. How past atrocities faced by Native Americans could still feel so present on Pine Ridge, which is where the Wounded Knee Massacre took place. How to come to terms with the fact that, compared to these atrocities, the service I did on Pine Ridge is a drop in the ocean.

Despite the humble contribution I could make in a month, it was a privilege to deliver education about life- saving health topics that would not have otherwise been covered in grade school science classes. I loved working with the students at Porcupine, learning about their hot Cheetos and basketball-loving ways, and having a ton of fun with them in the process.

"The path to one’s strength, pride, integrity and wisdom often starts with a vision as a child. Our children may be granted visions in many ways. Often it is through a teacher with a pure heart.”

Contact Info

  • Asniya.org
    PO Box 9746
    Rapid City, SD, 57709
    info@asniya.org

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