WASHINGTON – A football star was recently featured at the Department of the Interior with a plan to help children attending Native American schools get healthy.
Myron L. Rolle, an all-American college athlete, explained in a Sept. 23 ceremony at Interior’s Washington office that improving the health of Native American youth is one of his major concerns.
Rolle, a former safety for his college team, the Florida State Seminoles, has gained much attention in the press for his desire to forgo an immediate National Football League career in order to take advantage of a Rhodes scholarship to study at Oxford University for the 2009 – 10 academic year.
“I’ve been an athlete for my whole life, so I know what it takes to have an active lifestyle, to eat proper nutrition, and how to perform daily functions better,” Rolle said.
“My father is a Type 2 diabetic, so I know what it’s like personally to have someone and live with someone who has to monitor his blood sugar and watch his diet and have a more active approach to his lifestyle as well.”
Rolle said his former college team name also inspired him to want to honor Native Americans. He did not refer to the mascot controversies that plague many teams named after American Indians.
He heads a foundation that designed and implemented a health program last year for Indian fifth graders at a largely Seminole charter school in Okeechobee, Fla.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and BIA head Larry EchoHawk are impressed with the success of the program. Thus, they chose to expand it to introduce a similar physical fitness and health program into Interior-funded American Indian schools.
Interior’s Bureau of Indian Education serves approximately 42,000 students in 184 schools and dormitories across the country on 64 reservations in 23 states.
“Our objective in this initiative is to inspire American Indian and Native Alaskan students to live healthier lifestyles through exercise, outdoor activity, and proper nutrition,” Salazar said.
“The program, developed by the Myron Rolle Foundation, will celebrate the uniqueness of their heritage and identity in curriculum, develop trust amongst peers, train leaders and involve the community to ensure their needs are met.”
Salazar said Rolle was inspired by President Barack Obama to make a commitment to Indian country.
EchoHawk said several BIE-funded schools are excited to participate. He has a grandson who is diabetic.
“We are grateful and very pleased to join in a partnership to help the health and well-being of Native students.”
The name of the initiative is the “Our Way to Health” program. Its goal is to encourage and help American Indian children in middle school to manage their own diet and exercise, and to influence adults to adopt healthy lifestyle changes.
Rolle said the program provides incentive-based learning experiences, team-building, outdoor physical activities, health education and diabetes awareness sessions.
Interior officials said the program will initially be expanded to cover five BIE-funded schools in New Mexico and Arizona, including:
• San Felipe Pueblo Elementary School, San Felipe Pueblo, in Bernalillo, N.M.
• Isleta Elementary School in Albuquerque, N.M.
• Hotevilla Bacavi Community School in Hotevilla, Ariz.
• Tuba City Boarding School in Tuba City, Ariz.
• Keams Canyon Elementary School in Kearns Canyon, Ariz.
The principal and students of the Isleta facility said diabetes prevention is one of the main goals of the school’s participation.
Features of the program include two visits to each school by Rolle and a visit by students at the end of the semester to an NFL or collegiate sporting event.
Salazar hopes the program is expanded to more Indian schools.