ALPINE RANCHOS, Ariz. - Close to 200 people came out to share healthy traditional foods, wellness education, physical activities, and an energetic performance by the band Blackfire.
The Wellness Fair is the brainchild of Louva Montour, president of the STAR School Wellness Committee, the home economics teacher and the school's food service manager.
"It is mandatory that all schools have a wellness committee," Montour said. "I wanted to devise a way to make learning about healthy eating and daily exercise fun."
Montour, who has managed the school cafeteria for almost 10 years has always been conscious about food ingredients-a stance fully supported by the school administration.
"When parents come to the school to eat for various functions throughout the year, they learn that we don't serve salt," Montour said. "I explain that we do this as part of diabetes prevention ... when people use salt, that is what they taste. They don't really taste the food itself. Parents are noticing this and some are getting used to it."
"Some people get offended when approached about the personal topic of diet and health," Montour explained. "Others can be open and able to discuss these issues."
Montour said that the STAR School cafeteria serves more fresh vegetables and fruits. When canned vegetables are used, they are rinsed to remove as much salt and chemicals as possible.
This year, the Wellness Committee invited the school's Navajo Peacemaking and Safe Schools project to partner in the event.
This partnership allowed each student to present a book to his or her parents. The books were provided by the NPSS grant from the Voices curriculum,
"We chose the Voices Reading program as part of our project because it presents stories from the point of view of children," said Mark Sorensen, who directs the NPSS Project. "The characters are multicultural and face themes that our students can relate to. Readers are presented with ethical dilemmas, and our students get to discuss these issues-such as a child being raised by a grandparent, or someone being affected by bullying-without having to feel embarrassed or vulnerable.
"When students read about the experiences of a young Japanese girl who is detained in an internment camp during World War II-our Navajo students can see the resilience of Japanese Americans, yet be able to relate to that story from having ancestors who went through the Long Walk," Sorensen added.
Perhaps the most moving part of the event was the reading of Voices of Democracy speeches written by students after working with the Voices curriculum.
"The speeches are about issues the children care deeply about-issues that affect their community," said Dawn Mapatis, the third and fourth grade community teacher and a committee member. "Each child from kindergarten through eighth grade writes a speech."
The speeches are given in the classroom, and semifinalists and finalists are chosen by the teachers, Mapatis explained.
This year, the k-4 speeches were delivered at the Wellness Fair. The finalists were Stephen Bedonie, Markel Cook and Shiane Cook. The semifinalists were Jake Yazzie and Kendra David. Their speeches addressed alcoholism, driving while intoxicated and littering.
"Stephen's was about things you can drink other than alcohol," Mapatis said. "I can still hear him...'You can drink Koolaid, you can drink juice, you can drink water.'"
Lola Bahe of the Leupp Senior Center brought over a dozen elders with her and the group led a dance to the "Hokey Pokey."
Loretta Jones is the committee member who leads physical activities at the school when she isn't working as a teaching assistant.
"Our goal was to promote wellness overall," Jones said. "The students enjoyed being active. Music is a part of keeping active. Lola (Bahe) said this too. You can dance and move around while listening to music, and you don't even realize you are exercising. So having a band at the Wellness Fair only makes sense, and the kids really got into it."
The Shamrock Foods Company provided healthy snacks enjoyed by all during the morning activities that included information booths by the Navajo Nation Special Diabetes Prevention Programs, the Southwest Navajo Tobacco Education Prevention Project, Coconino County Health Education, the Hopi Alliance Against Substance Abuse, Louise Benally with Northern Arizona University's Native Foodways project, Dilkon Department of Behavioral Health, and the Winslow Indian Health Care Center.
Montour and the Wellness Committee expressed their gratitude to Council Delegates Leonard Chee and Thomas Walker Jr. for their support of the wellness efforts at the STAR School. Walker provided funding for hotel accommodations so that the committee members could attend the food show held by the Shamrock Foods Company in Phoenix in March, and Chee provided the fee for the entertainment at the Wellness Fair on May 8.
The school's Johnson O'Malley Indian Education Committee provided T-shirts for students and staff.