Introduction: As children spend a significant amount of their day at school, school-based health promotion interventions are one strategy for improving health and wellness for Indigenous children globally. The Indigenous Youth Mentorship Program (IYMP) is one such intervention in Canada. IYMP’s core components include physical activities/games, healthy snacks, relationship building activities and traditional Indigenous teachings. The theoretical framework guiding IYMP is based on the pedagogical teachings (Circle of Courage and Four R’s) of two Indigenous scholars (Brokenleg and Kirkness). Between 2012-2018, IYMP was rippled (IYMP team’s preferred term for ‘scaled-up’) to 13 Indigenous school communities across Canada. Schools are encouraged to tailor the program to suit their unique contexts. There is little information about the scalability of school health programs developed for Indigenous children. The purpose of the present research was to describe the implementation of IYMP during its first year of rippling to two rural First Nation community schools in the province of Alberta.
Methods: This descriptive case study described the first year of implementation (January to June 2017) of IYMP as an afterschool healthy living program in two rural First Nation community schools. IYMP was led by a young adult health leader (education assistant) and youth mentors (grades 6-12) from each community. Program implementation was documented using program logs and observational field notes of program sessions. Descriptive statistics were used to analyze log data.
Results: In total, 33 children, 2 young adult health leaders, 19 high school youth mentors and 6 junior high school mentors from both First Nation schools participated in IYMP. On average, there were 11.7 children (median= 11, range=6-24) per program session, typically 3 males and 7 females. Weekly sessions had a mean duration of 87 minutes (median=90, range=75-110). Foods most often offered to children were whole unprocessed foods such as fruits and vegetables. Water was served at each session. Physical activities had a mean duration of 70.7 minutes per session (median=70, range=45-95). Activity sessions occurred in the gymnasium 73% of the time or in both the gymnasium and outside 27% of the time, depending on weather and environmental conditions. The intensity level of physical activity sessions was mostly “vigourous” (59%), followed by “walking” (32%) or “sedentary” (9%). Traditional teachings were embedded within the program activities and sometimes included the participation of Elders from the community. Activities included making bracelets using Medicine Wheel colours with Elder teachings/Elder participation, sharing circles, the Seven Grandfather Teachings (i.e., wisdom, love, respect, bravery, honesty, humility and truth), use of First Nations languages in games or in prayer, and the ceremonial burning of sweetgrass (i.e., smudging).
Conclusion: While modifications to program delivery were encouraged, both schools delivered all core components of IYMP at each session. IYMP planning could explore ways to make the program more appealing to males. IYMP’s flexibility, use of an Indigenous theoretical framework, cultural infusions, and resonance with Indigenous values likely facilitated its rippling to these schools. The next steps are to determine if the delivery of IYMP to additional communities has adaptability, effectiveness and high impact.