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Press Release

Release Date: May 07, 2020
by Chickasaw Nation Media Relations Office

When Oklahoma implemented safety measures due to the COVID-19 pandemic, schools had to adapt. Their buildings were shuttered but that didn’t mean education stopped or reaching students became less of a focus.

The same can be said for HealthCorps’ mission of instilling in area students its three pillars of wellness, i.e. the importance of physical activity, nutrition and mental resilience.

Natalie Tunzi, HealthCorps’ product, monitoring and evaluation manager, says program coordinators who work in the schools, have adjusted in the same way as their host institutions.

“It’s been tough, but we’re adapting alongside our schools,” Tunzi said. “We’re directly teaching live lessons, as well as recording video lessons and sending them to students. We are creating lesson worksheets with challenges and self-care tools to include in distribution packets. We are organizing and participating in food distribution events. Our coordinators are getting engaged in all the ways they can with students and school staffs as well. ”

The Chickasaw Nation sponsors the HealthCorps effort in public schools in Byng, Latta, Marietta, Newcastle, Davis, Tishomingo, Purcell and Kingston, Oklahoma.

“We’re pulling out all the stops to adapt, and are grateful to The Chickasaw Nation and other program partners who are supporting us along the way,” Tunzi said. “We’re hustling to make our curriculum content even more bite-sized and digestible to the students we’ve been working with and anybody who needs them right now. Resources around self-care are really resonating the most right now, understandably.”

Education regarding nutrition, one of HealthCorps’ pillars of wellness, often starts with the basics of learning how to read and interpret nutrition labels.

“What is the difference between a fat, a protein and a carbohydrate? What foods are sources of each, and how can we balance our plates so we are getting the nutrients we need? Lastly, how do you cook or prepare them? We encourage students to be creative in the kitchen, to cook for their families and connect over mealtime using Mealtime Blessings Conversation Starters, a resource we created in partnership with The Chickasaw Nation.”

Tunzi said the second pillar, physical activity, can be almost magical for overall wellness.

“Our bodies are made to move and we want students to understand how valuable it is for physical and mental wellness, and help them find ways to move that are enjoyable to them.

“Our pillar on mental resilience covers the concept of how we handle stressors and curveballs life throws us. This is especially important now.” Practical applications include connecting with people in our support systems, meditation, mindfulness, journaling, and physical activity, she says.

Tunzi said response for resources has been high in this difficult time for students, with over 1.3 million digital resource impressions and hundreds of thousands of pages distributed through conventional means nationwide.

“Our school coordinators are continuing to reach students, to bring them opportunities. They miss them and want them to know they are still supported through this difficult time. We’ve set up interviews to connect students with other students in different states, being as creative as possible with the technology we have available to us. We also recognize there are many students we aren’t able to directly contact now, so we quickly headed to the place where they are – social media. We’ve been sharing self-care tips, recipe how-tos, and wellness challenges,” she said.

HealthCorps is the creation of Dr. Mehmet Oz and his wife Lisa. “They realized the decisions teenagers make and the amount and quality of health education and resources they receive have effects that last a lifetime,” Tunzi said.

“We want to break it down so it’s easy for them to understand the basics and then give them the platform to explore. We want them to see their power in this process. We’re not telling them you have to do X,Y and Z. We want to show them the example, let them experience it for themselves and see how powerful practicing these things can be, and then connect them to ways to support their community to keep that message spreading in a way that’s relatable.”

While HealthCorps’ major thrust is inside a school setting, the nonprofit organization doesn’t limit itself to four walls.

“We’re in the classroom but we’re also outside the classroom as coordinators and connectors,” she said. “We host leadership clubs, lunchtime events and spring health fairs in which students coordinate logistics, create booths and invite community partners to add to the event. We want to help build excitement around wellness, and show students what role they can play in supporting their peers.”

Tunzi said HealthCorps coordinators in various schools also work to improve access to appealing healthy options, such as by writing grants for water filtration systems or school gardens.

“Ultimately we want students to be actively engaged in their personal health and invested in the health of their community. We want them to understand challenges or barriers that may make it more difficult to have healthy habits, and then address them with creative solutions so everyone can thrive. We’re here to support them in that process,” she said.