Promoting Good Health from the Very Start

November 17, 2017


Good health is a gift that’s cherished at Red Cloud. On any given day, you can find students running as fast as their legs can take them across the playground or athletic field; or grabbing an apple or banana from the baskets placed in the hallways for a healthy snack on their way to class; or even learning about how to grow healthy, indigenous foods in our greenhouse and garden.

But for our students and many others across the Pine Ridge Reservation, remaining healthy can be a lifelong challenge. Life expectancy here in Oglala Lakota County is just 66.8 years, the lowest in the United States, as a result of endemic rates of serious health conditions, from diabetes and heart disease to substance abuse and alcoholism. Pine Ridge is also considered a “food desert” and access to fresh, healthy fruits and vegetables is extremely limited. More than 25 percent of adults and children on Pine Ridge are food insecure.

"You can't educate a child who isn't healthy and
you can't keep a child healthy who isn't educated."
Jocelyn Elders, Former U.S Surgeon General

Communicating the importance of building healthy habits is a priority for all Red Cloud teachers. But tight budgets haven’t allowed for purchasing high-quality, up-to-date teaching materials around health in recent years. And in the elementary school, there are no health textbooks at all.

Those are facts that leaders at Red Cloud are working hard to change this year.

“The health challenges facing us on the reservation are incredibly severe, and research tells us that students’ academic outcomes are closely linked to their own wellness,” said Maka Clifford ‘05, Director of Curriculum and Assessment. “So it’s even more critical that we give our students the tools to understand how a range of factors—physical, mental, social, and emotional—can affect their own health and the well-being of those around them.”



For many Red Cloud students, health isn’t just a subject to learn in the classroom; it’s a part of their dreams for the future. Over the last decade, as Red Cloud has developed a more comprehensive STEM curriculum, more and more students have set their sights on an advanced degree in the healthcare field. More than a dozen students have completed summer research internships at the National Institutes of Health outside Washington, DC, and still more are part of the Native American Healthcare Scholars Program, which exposes Native students to careers in science and healthcare fields.

“It’s been amazing to see how many of our students graduate and go on to pursue health-related careers,” said Maka. “But it is powerful to see how many want to come back and improve the healthcare that’s available on the reservation and improve health outcomes here despite opportunities elsewhere.”

One of Red Cloud’s newest graduates, Taylor Brooks ’17, has always been driven to support better health in her community. Faced with the too-common reality of teen suicide on the reservation, she started a youth group on the reservation focused on its prevention.



“I met weekly with youth to talk about topics like suicide, teen pregnancy, and drug and alcohol prevention, “ she said. “I feel like I made a difference—even just making an impact on a few kids is a major step.”

That experience is part of what draws her to a career in psychology. She is now studying at the University of California, Los Angeles and planning to major in psychology.

“I want to understand the brain—to understand why people do what they do, so that you can help them on a deeper level with their problems. I want to do well in school and eventually get my doctorate—and then come back to the reservation to be a psychologist or child therapist, in order to help my people.”

High-quality health education will allow our students to thrive, not just now but throughout their lives. Give the gift of good health—and help us reach our goal of $20,000 for purchasing new health curriculum!

 Photos © Red Cloud Indian School




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