The Healthy Meals Program at Red Cloud Indian School provides 600 Lakota children living on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation the nutrition they need each day, giving them the energy and the ability to focus so that they can succeed in school. The program continues to be one of the hallmark characteristics of a Red Cloud education, helping to ensure that the Lakota students have all the resources they need to succeed academically and beyond.
Hunger is a daily companion for many of the children on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Before they can concentrate on their lessons, the growling sounds of their stomachs must be silenced. After reading food journals that were kept for two weeks as part of a class project in several grades, it became evident that for many students, the lunches that they received at Red Cloud were sometimes the only food, and almost always, the only nutritious food, that the students were receiving during the day.
Research shows that students who are hungry, and those who are receiving sub-standard nutrition, are not able to learn to the best of their ability.
And on the Pine Ridge Reservation, residents often exhibit epidemic levels of diabetes and obesity, as poor choices in food lead to health problems early in life. In an effort to address this growing problem, Red Cloud adopted a Healthy Meals Program several years ago to provide nutritional food for its students. The Healthy Meals Program includes three primary components:
- Students in all school divisions receive a hot breakfast when they arrive at school in the morning.
- At lunchtime, all students are served a hot lunch, consisting of a healthy entrée, a hot vegetable (not a potato), low-fat milk and a salad bar with fresh fruits and vegetables.
- As an afternoon snack, fresh fruit is provided. This is done through the USDA's Fresh Food & Vegetable Program (FFVP).
Teachers also continue to reinforce healthy eating habits in their classrooms, hoping that those lessons will carry over into the home life. It is hoped that a lifetime of good eating habits can be instilled through the food choices offered and the reinforcement in the classrooms.
A unique position
The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation has the lowest life expectancy in the Western Hemisphere, besides Haiti. Life expectancies are 20 years younger for residents of the reservation than for their peers elsewhere in the country. And infant mortality rates are 2.6 times higher than the national average. Obesity, diabetes and heart disease are of equal concern. According to the Indian Health Service, in the United States annually over 50,000 Native Americans lose their feet or legs to diabetes; the rate of amputations is four times higher than among the general U.S. population, and deaths due to diabetes among Native Americans are 350 times higher. Unhealthy diets and lack of exercise are the two main contributing factors behind these high numbers, despite the fact that in the early history of the Lakota, diabetes was virtually unknown.
The educational approach that Red Cloud implements is helping to keep hope alive amongst Lakota children and youth. In addition to a basic academic curriculum, Red Cloud provides an array of wrap-around services and activities to meet the students where they are and ensure that they acquire the skills necessary to dream bigger dreams and then go after them.
The Healthy Meals Program is an integral component of the mission of Red Cloud. Teachers offer positive results from the program:
- Many of them note that the students routinely clean their plates and ask for seconds.
- They also note that often they see students stuffing their pockets with the food provided as a snack.
- The school knows of several instances in which food taken home is the only food that is available until the child returns to Red Cloud for breakfast the next morning.
As Lakota families are forced to make adjustments in their own personal food budgets, the availability of proper nutrition at school becomes all the more pertinent for Red Cloud’s 600 students as they come to school to learn.
The Healthy Meals Program serves the 600 lower and upper elementary students at both Red Cloud Elementary School and Our Lady of Lourdes Elementary School, and students at Red Cloud High School. A total of 29,719 breakfasts and 68,444 lunches were served to students at all three schools this past year. Results of the program include:
- More attentive students who are ready to learn when they arrive in their classrooms;
- Healthier, more active students both in and out of school;
- Few absences from school due to illness (although there have been several times children came to school ill because they were hungry and did not want to be sent home until after they had a chance to eat);
- Education on the importance of a lifetime of healthy eating, including a targeted effort to tackle two significant reservation health issues: obesity and diabetes; and, Families who can discuss with their children what they are learning about healthy nutrition at school.
Help champion this initiative
Contribute to the success of this initiative by making a gift online or calling our Advancement Office at 605/867-1105 ext. 2300 to learn more about how your family or foundation can partner with us.