Capacity Building for FCS Education Students through Experiences in a Tribal Community

Article excerpt

Capacity building is defined as "acquiring and using knowledge and skills, building on assets and strengths, respecting diversity, responding to change and creating the future" (American Association of Family & Consumer Sciences, 2001). Family and consumer sciences (FCS) educators guide youth and adults as they expand their capacity for diverse roles as individuals, family members, employees, and citizens of the larger community.

Teacher preparation must include opportunities for students to build capacity as they prepare to become educators in an increasingly diverse world. Appreciation and knowledge of the role of cultural diversity enhances this process (Darling, Greenwood, & Hansen-Gandy, 1998). Developing appreciation for and knowledge of diversity requires multiple experiences both on and off-campus. Experiences in off-campus cultural settings compliment campus learning. Opportunities to interact with communities and audiences representative of those they are likely to serve is important (Gallego, 2001).

Native Americans constitute 8.3% of South Dakota's population, the largest non-White population (U.S. Census Bureau, 2000). This is significant as Native Americans make up less than 1% of the nation's population. Building capacity for working with Native Americans is particularly important for teacher preparation programs in South Dakota.

Constructivism and Experiential Learning

Two theories ground this work: constructivism and experiential learning. Engagement in experiences that expand knowledge and understanding are critical to learning as emphasized by constructivist theory. The essence of constructivism is that learners construct personal knowledge and meaning from their experiences (Fosnot, 1996). Constructivism acknowledges the active role of learners in the unique creation of knowledge, the importance of individual and social experience in this knowledge development process, and the realization that the new knowledge will vary in its degree of validity (Doolittle & Camp, 1999). Engaging students in a variety of learning experiences provides greater opportunity for construction of knowledge than can occur if only in a university classroom.

Experiential learning theory promotes the importance of reflection in the learning process. Mezirow and others stressed that the heart of learning lies in how experiences are processed, particularly the critical reflection on the experience. Learning is a cycle that begins with experience, continues with reflection, and later leads to action (Cranton, 1992).


Failure to challenge attitudes and beliefs about culture may lead to an underestimation of student abilities (Flores, Tefft-Cousins, & Diaz, 1991). This study was designed to assist students in constructing new knowledge of and respect for Native American culture. Specific objectives were to:

* Assess the impact of contextual experiences with Native American culture on students' knowledge.

* Strengthen respect for Native American culture through interaction with Native American students and other tribal members.

Experiential learning opportunities were integrated into upper level classes during the fall of 2001. Approval was granted by the university Human Subjects Committee prior to the study.

FCS education students and faculty made two visits to the Tiospa Zina Tribal School on the Lake Traverse Indian Reservation, home to the Sisseton Wahpeton Sioux Tribes of the Dakota people. This K-12 tribal school was founded in 1981 and its mission is to develop learners who "retain their own unique culture" and are "prepared for a technological/multicultural society" (Tiospa Zina Tribal School, 2000-2001).

During the first visit, university students primarily learned about the school through dialogue and observation. The superintendent provided an overview and the students were oriented to the FCS curriculum. Several classes were observed including PCS, math, computer technology, government, and Dakota culture. …