Nearly 80 youth in grades 1-8 signed up for Interfaith Action’s annual Indigenous-led, holistic, and fun-filled summer American Indian Youth Enrichment (AIYE) program. For two months, Native youth are learning about their heritage and history alongside Indigenous leaders and becoming advocates for their culture. Activities include Native foods, lacrosse and other traditional Native games, Reading Warriors challenges, weekly fields trips, and special family celebrations.
This type of culturally based, community-connected youth development programming shows substantial positive impact for the youth Interfaith Action serves, according to an independent evaluation conducted by Michael Quin Patton of Utilization-Focused Evaluation and Nicole MartinRogers from Wilder Research. Importantly, participants showed positive results different from traditional programs related to cultural identity and connections.
“Culture is protective,” says Patton. “Culturally relevant and specific out-of-school time programming, done correctly, is one of the most protective infusions we can give to children living in poverty. Ample research supports this finding.”
With this evaluation, Patton and MartinRogers developed an innovative tool to more meaningfully evaluate culturally based, community-connected out-of-school time educational programs. They found that AIYE met all of the important requirements related to basic needs, safety and security, social belonging, self-esteem, and self-actualization.
One community member summed up AIYE with this powerful statement: “Students who are quiet and withdrawn with other students during the school year – during the summer at AIYE, when they’re just with the Native students, they open up. They blossom. They communicate better. They feel more comfortable.”
Patton and MartinRogers also discovered that AIYE students frequently turn into program or community leaders. As one of the young leaders said, “I think AIYE is the best thing ever. As a child, one of my highlights of my summer was being in this program every year. And I’m just really happy that I’m allowed to be a part of it now and keep doing what I got to experience with the youth.”