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Journal of Early Intervention 

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Forming Partnerships With Tribai Colleges to Meet Early Childhood Personnel 

Preparation Needs 

Geralyn M. Jacobs, Joanne Wounded Head, Sue Forest, Judy Struck, Keenan Pituch and 

Gerard A. Jacobs 

Journal of Early Intervention 2001 ; 24; 298 
□01:10.11 77/1 05381 51 01 02400405 

The online version of this article can be found at: 
http://jei.sagepub.eom/cgi/content/abstract/24/4/298 


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Journal of Early Intervention, 2001 
Vol. 24, No. 4, 298-305 

Copyright 2001 by the Division of Early Childhood, Council for Exceptional Children 


INNOVATIVE PRACTICES 

Forming Partnerships With Tribal Colleges to 
Meet Early Childhood Personnel 
Preparation Needs 


GERALYN M. JACOBS 

University of South Dakota 

JOANNE WOUNDED HEAD 

The Center for Disabilities at the University of South Dakota 

SUE FOREST 

University of Montana 

JUDY STRUCK 

The Center for Disabilities at the University of South Dakota 

KEENAN PITUCH & GERARD A. JACOBS 

University of South Dakota 


Having enough well-trained early intervention personnel continues to be a challenge on the 
reservations of our country. The Higher Education Partnership Project was designed to help 
address this challenge by providing a model of outreach training for reservation sites. The 
project involved collaboration with two tribal colleges, offering courses to students and 
professionals working with children with disabilities and their families. The program was 
successful in teaching critical competencies and building a local capacity for teacher training. 
Factors that led to this success were the involvement and support of personnel from the 
reservation in all phases of the project, making the courses sensitive and relevant to students’ 
needs and cultures, and planning for the long-range continuation of the courses. 


A significant challenge in the field of early 
intervention is finding enough qualified, well- 
trained personnel to meet the needs of young 
children with special needs and their families 
(Squires, 1995; Winton & McCollum, 1997), 
The shortage is especially critical in many of 
the reservation areas of our country. The 
Higher Education Partnership was designed to 
help alleviate this shortage on two of the res- 
ervations in South Dakota, and to provide a 
training model for other areas with similar 


needs. The project was specifically tailored to 
meet the unique needs of early intervention 
professionals working in reservation areas. 
This article will provide background infor- 
mation about the project, a brief description 
of the project and how it was implemented, 
project results, and a discussion focusing on 
suggestions to consider when developing sim- 
ilar types of personnel preparation programs. 

A survey of all educators and administra- 
tors directly involved in providing early child- 


298 


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hood services to children with disabilities in 
school districts and cooperatives in South Da- 
kota documented the need for trained person- 
nel (see Forest, 1990). Following this survey, 
South Dakota made a commitment to ensure 
that all early childhood professionals serving 
young children with disabilities have the com- 
petencies necessary to provide high-quality 
services. The state issued rules and regula- 
tions mandating that professionals responsible 
for classrooms consisting of young children 
with disabilities must have an endorsement in 
early childhood special education. The en- 
dorsement required professionals to take a 
minimum of 15 credit hours of coursework in 
six areas, including a 3-credit-hour practicum. 

The state then implemented a training initia- 
tive consisting of telecourses and summer insti- 
tutes, but few reservation-based personnel at- 
tended. To reach the professionals working on 
the reservations, the Center for Disabilities at 
the University of South Dakota proposed the 
Higher Education Partnership Project to bring 
training directly to the reservation communities. 

The two reservations chosen for this project 
were the Rosebud and Pine Ridge Reserva- 
tions. The Rosebud Reservation is located in 
Todd County, which has a population of 9,246 
and an unemployment rate of over 80%. 
Twelve percent of the children enrolled in 
their schools have been identified as having 
special needs, and an estimated 49% of the 
children under age 18 live in poverty. Shan- 
non County, which includes the Pine Ridge 
Reservation, one of the largest reservations in 
the United States, has a total population of 
11,837. Twenty-five percent of the children 
enrolled in their schools have been identified 
as having special needs, and an estimated 44% 
of the children under 18 live in poverty. The 
number of children between the ages of 3 and 
5 qualifying for special education services at 
the two reservations combined averaged 66 
children per year over the last 5 years (Coch- 
ran, 2000)» The state Interagency Coordinat- 
ing Council reported that the number of chil- 
dren from birth to age 3 qualifying for servic- 
es at the two reservations combined averaged 
71 per year over the last 5 years. 

Several characteristics of these reservations 

Jacobs et aL 


contributed to the choice of these locations for 
this project. Both reservations had local ac- 
credited institutions of higher education with 
existing special education programs and fac- 
ulty. Both had a strong commitment to pro- 
vide supports for young children and their 
families, evidenced by their Child Find pro- 
grams and clinics. Finally, community mem- 
bers on both reservations made commitments 
of time and resources to support the project. 

DESCRIPTION OF THE PROJECT 

The project was funded as an early intervention 
training initiative from the federal Administra- 
tion on Developmental Disabilities (ADD) and 
the South Dakota Office of Special Education. 
It was initially funded for 3 years and then giv- 
en a one-year extension. A continuation of the 
project subsequently funded for an additional 4 
years, is currently in operation. 

The project was designed to establish part- 
nerships with the tribal colleges, offer courses 
that would cover the competencies the state 
outlined, and provide the scaffolding needed 
to help the colleges continue to offer the 
courses in the future. Because one out of ev- 
ery four states has Native American colleges, 
this project would also provide a model for 
other states to follow. 

Model Elements 

Partnership building. From the very begin- 
ning of the project, tribal personnel were in- 
volved in planning and providing suggestions. 
Advisory committees were established on 
both reservations, consisting of tribal college 
faculty, administrators, students, early inter- 
vention personnel, public school directors of 
exceptional education, and community mem- 
bers and leaders. The groups met to discuss a 
variety of issues, including the best time and 
location for the courses and effective ways to 
advertise. They also identified local family 
members who could be invited to the classes 
to share their experiences. The project faculty 
worked in close collaboration with the admin- 
istration, faculty, and staff at the two tribal 
colleges to discuss development of the courses 
and to develop future plans. 

299 


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Cultural considerations. Careful attention 
was given to cultural issues and the unique 
concerns of Native American people. The 
course on policy, services, and legal issues 
had specialized components in governmental 
policy issues that directly affect tribal opera- 
tions and tribal health, education, and social 
services. These included issues of self-deter- 
mination and cases involving tribal sovereign- 
ty. Native American children’s books, such as 
the Native American Cinderella story, ‘The 
Rough-Face Girl” (Martin, 1992), as well as 
books from a variety of other cultures were 
used when presenting ideas for curriculum. 
Reservation personnel gave the project staff 
university catalogs, student handbooks, and 
reading material describing their tribal beliefs 
on such topics as family life, disability, and 
leadership. They suggested incorporating 
books such as “Keepers of the Earth: Native 
American Stories and Environmental Activi- 
ties for Children” (Bruchac, 1997), as well as 
other books in this series. 

The staff worked to weave Lakota values 
into the courses, including the belief that chil- 
dren are sacred, and the Lakota values of 
Woksape (Wisdom), Woohitika (Bravery), 
Wowacintanka (Fortitude), and Wacantognaka 
(Generosity). Class discussions consisted of 
generating ideas on how to incorporate these 
concepts and traditions in teaching and ther- 
apy throughout the curriculum. Suggestions 
included language and cognitive activities, 
such as traditional storytelling and learning 
Lakota words, as well as motor activities, such 
as making traditional dream-catchers and 
movement experiences with native music. 

Portfolios and course competencies. Com- 
petencies for each course were based on the 
competencies listed in the state rules and regu- 
lations. Students were required to compile a 
portfolio for each course to document their pro- 
ficiency in the course competencies. The port- 
folio consisted of Journal entries with reflections 
on the assigned readings and activities com- 
pleted both in and outside of class. It also con- 
tained special projects the students designed for 
use in their current or future jobs and to dem- 
onstrate their skills. This type of assignment has 
been shown to be effective in helping students 

300 


Table 1, 

Course Offerings at the Tribal Colleges 

• Survey of Early Childhood Special Education: 
Typical and Atypical Development 

• Policies and Services and the Legal Aspects of 
Early Childhood Special Education 

• Curriculum in Early Childhood Special Education 

• Evaluation, Screening, and Assessment in Early 
Childhood Special Education 

• Family Systems in Early Childhood Special Ed- 
ucation 

• Working as Teams in Early Childhood Special 
Education 

• Practicum in Early Childhood Special Education 


apply new skills (Wolfe & Snyder, 1997). In 
addition, students placed a list of course com- 
petencies in their portfolios, along with a de- 
scription of how the materials in their portfolio 
demonstrated their proficiency in each of the 
competencies. Students were also given pre- and 
postcourse questionnaires to document their per- 
ception of the importance of the competencies 
to be acquired in the courses, as well as their 
skill level on the competencies. 

IMPLEMENTATION 

Coursework and Curricula 
The Project Director and Training Specialist 
hired for this project were the instructors for 
the courses. During the first months of the 
project they gathered and reviewed existing 
coursework in early intervention. They set up 
a series of courses (Table 1) designed around 
each of the areas specified in the new state 
rules. Students could register for either grad- 
uate or undergraduate credit. Graduate stu- 
dents were expected to do additional work re- 
quiring them to use more of the current re- 
search and literature in the field. 

Schedule and phases of courses. Seven 
courses were designed to meet the required state 
competencies. One course was offered each se- 
mester beginning in 1994. The courses were of- 
fered one weekend each month at each reser- 
vation for 3 hours on Friday evenings and 6 
hours on Saturdays for five weekends, totaling 
45 class hours. The plan called for the project 
faculty to offer a complete set of courses and a 

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practicum, and then for the faculty from the res- 
ervation itself to continue offering the courses. 

Instructional strategies. The project in- 
structors prepared lectures, large and small 
group discussions, and a variety of activities. 
These activities included case studies that 
would allow students to apply their theoretical 
knowledge (Fallon, 1996). Learning centers 
also became an integral part of the course 
plans. Different types of learning centers were 
designed, based on the course content. In the 
assessment course, for example, students 
worked with various screening and assessment 
tools at the centers. In the curriculum course, 
learning centers consisted of materials person- 
nel could use to enhance their curricula. The 
centers were designed to model appropriate 
practices and help students understand how to 
implement learning centers into their own 
classrooms (Fox, Hanline, Vail, & Galant, 
1994). The wide variety of instructional strat- 
egies used were designed to meet the unique 
needs of adult learners and to keep them ac- 
tively involved in their own learning through- 
out the long weekend format of the courses. 

Students 

One hundred and twenty-two students from a 
wide range of professions enrolled in one or 
more of the courses, including early interven- 
tion teachers. Head Start teachers, administra- 
tors, and therapists. Twenty percent of the stu- 
dents had a master’s degree, 56% had a bach- 
elor’s degree, 12% had an associate’s degree, 
and 12% did not have a degree. Most of the 
students were currently working at the reser- 
vation. Of those who indicated their ethnicity 
on the demographics questionnaire that was 
given, 32% responded they were Native 
American. Most of the remaining students 
came primarily from either a Caucasian back- 
ground or had both Native American and Cau- 
casian backgrounds. 

Forty percent of the students stated on the 
demographics questionnaire that they were 
taking courses simply to gain skills and infor- 
mation, whereas only one-third expressed an 
interest in obtaining the endorsement. Never- 
theless, over 35 students completed all of the 
courses as well as the practicum and qualified 

Jacobs et aL 


for South Dakota’s Early Childhood Special 
Education endorsement. 

Developing Local Capacity 
At the beginning of the project, the staff was 
unaware of any individuals on the reserva- 
tions who had completed all the coursework 
required for the endorsement in early child- 
hood special education. Therefore, one of the 
major tasks of the project was to reach as 
many professionals as possible. Project staff 
placed advertisements in the tribal newspapers 
and made announcements on radio stations. 
They visited schools in the area, posted flyers, 
and met with teachers in the faculty lounge at 
lunch and after school. In addition, they 
mailed flyers to other schools and centers. 

Project staff worked from the outset of the 
project to design syllabi, lecture notes, hand- 
outs, overheads, and course outlines which 
could be passed on to the tribal colleges to be 
used in future courses on an ongoing basis. 
These materials were organized into kits for 
each of the colleges, along with videotapes 
that could be shown in each of the courses, 
reference books providing background mate- 
rial, children’s books featuring Native Amer- 
ican authors and themes, and materials to help 
the colleges set up learning centers and other 
activities. 

Recruiting faculty for the subsequent 
rounds of courses was an issue that was ad- 
dressed from the beginning of the project. 
Project staff discussed possible instructors 
with tribal college personnel and recruited stu- 
dents in the courses who demonstrated a high 
degree of leadership, knowledge, and skill. 
There were two individuals with a master’s 
degree on each of the reservations that com- 
pleted the coursework and were therefore able 
to help teach the courses in the future. 

EVALUATION 
Description of Data 

Throughout the first phase of the project, qual- 
itative and quantitative data were gathered 
from students, families, and tribal college per- 
sonnel. A demographic questionnaire was dis- 
tributed at the beginning of each course to 

301 


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gather information on the participants. Project 
staff administered the Self-Rating of Profes- 
sional Skills Instrument (Bailey, Buysse, & 
Palsha, 1990) to gather data on students’ per- 
ceptions of their knowledge and skill level be- 
fore and after each course they took. Instruc- 
tors also administered the pre- and post-course 
questionnaires documenting students’ percep- 
tion of the importance of the course compe- 
tencies, as well as their skill level for the Cur- 
riculum, Teams, Assessment, and Families 
courses. A paired sample t-test was used to 
assess if gains on these instruments were sta- 
tistically significant. In addition, Cohen’s 
measure of effect size (Cohen, 1988) was used 
to assess the magnitude of the gain. Cohen’s 
delta (J) was calculated by dividing the av- 
erage gain by the respective pretest standard 
deviation. 

Other information was gathered to help as- 
sess the effectiveness of the project. Students 
completed course evaluations at the conclu- 
sion of each course. Instructors used a check- 
list of course competencies when reviewing 
student portfolios to help determine students’ 
progress toward attaining the competencies. 
At the end of the initial 3 years, the project’s 
outside evaluator traveled to the tribal colleg- 
es and conducted interviews to further deter- 
mine the effectiveness of the model (Snyder 
& Wolfe, 1997). 

Summary of the Data 

Results of a paired sample t-test examining 
the difference between the pre- and post-test 
mean scores for each of the measures of the 
Self-Rating of Professional Skills instrument 
showed that in each of the courses, students 
made significant and substantial gains across 
all measures. Table 2 shows that all average 
gains were statistically significant (p < .001). 
In addition, Cohen’s d indicated that students’ 
gains on curriculum knowledge, skill level, 
and assessment skill level were moderate (d 
> .50), whereas the remaining gains were all 
large (d > .80). 

Students also made statistically significant 
and substantial gains from pre- to post-test on 
self-ratings of their course competency skill 
levels. Table 2 shows that students made large 

302 


gains {d > .80) on each of the skill levels. 
There was little change, however, in students’ 
pre- and post-test ratings of the importance of 
the course competencies, suggesting that all 
course competencies were important to stu- 
dents both before and after they took the 
course. 

Results of the course evaluations showed 
that, overall, students felt the courses were re- 
sponsive to their concerns and that their edu- 
cational needs were met. Students believed the 
courses helped them to achieve their profes- 
sional goals, and indicated they would rec- 
ommend these courses to others. Using the 
checklist of course competencies, instructors 
also found evidence that students had suc- 
cessfully documented their proficiency in the 
competencies through their portfolios. 

After the first round of courses the outside 
evaluator conducted semistructured interviews 
with 13 individuals on the reservations in- 
cluding tribal college personnel, a Director of 
Exceptional Education, therapists, aides, 
teachers and parents. One of the themes that 
emerged from these interviews was a high de- 
gree of satisfaction with the courses, including 
content and delivery. Another theme that 
emerged was that the camaraderie that devel- 
oped during the courses contributed to the 
overall success of the project. Other themes 
indicated that this project was successful be- 
cause the project staff took time and listened 
to the needs and the concerns of the students 
and professionals on the reservation, and that 
the staff brought the courses to them. Tribal 
college personnel wholeheartedly expressed 
their support of the project and their intent to 
fund and continue the courses when the pro- 
ject funds ended. They stated that the courses 
would continue because their own staff par- 
ticipated in the training, project staff provided 
the training materials and resources for each 
of the courses, and staff would continue to be 
available for consultation and technical assis- 
tance. 

DISCUSSION AND 
RECOMMENDATIONS TO THE 
FIELD 

The primary goal of this project was to help 
individuals acquire the skills and competen- 

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unauthorized distribution. 


cies necessary to provide high-quality servic- 
es and supports to children with disabilities 
and their families. The project was successful 
in reaching this goal. Given the scarcity of 
trained personnel before the project began, the 
training of over 120 students increases the 
likelihood that more effective services for 
children and families will be available on 
these reservations. Students rated their overall 
skill and knowledge level substantially higher 
at the end of the courses and indicated that 
they believed it was a result of participating 
in the courses. Another critical goal of this 
project was to establish ongoing training that 
would continue long after the grant was com- 
pleted. This was accomplished by working 
closely with tribal college personnel through- 
out the project to infuse the courses into their 
schedules of classes and by having the courses 
listed in their catalogs as regular parts of their 
course offerings. This has occurred at both 
reservation colleges where the courses contin- 
ue to be offered. 

Challenges 

A number of factors provided unique chal- 
lenges. Finding appropriate on-site practicum 
supervisors who were trained and experienced 
was very difficult. Project faculty did most of 
the supervision themselves, visiting the prac- 
ticum teachers once in their classrooms and 
reading their journals and assignments. On 
one of the reservations, project faculty were 
later able to delegate most of the responsibil- 
ity of visiting the students to a Director of 
Exceptional Education who attended the first 
set of courses. Turnover of faculty and admin- 
istrators at the colleges provided additional 
challenges, but the project faculty was able to 
meet with new personnel as they came on 
board. Additional challenges included the dis- 
tance that the staff had to travel to get to the 
reservation, coupled with the sometimes-haz- 
ardous road conditions and unpredictable 
weather. With the great expanse covered by 
the reservations, many students themselves 
had to travel great distances; 36% traveled 
over 50 miles and 5% made a trip of 200 
miles or more. 


Table 3. 

Factors that Facilitated the Success of the 

Project 

1. Involvement and support 

• Active involvement and support of tribal ed- 
ucation leaders, tribal institutions of higher 
education and community members in the in- 
ception and development of the project, in- 
cluding the establishment of local advisory 
committees 

• Support and involvement of several key state- 
wide entities, such as the Office of Special 
Education, Advocacy Services, and the Gov- 
ernor’s Planning Council on Developmental 
Disabilities 

2. Making courses sensitive and responsive to stu- 
dent needs and cultures 

• Holding classes on the reservations 

• Scheduling classes as weekend seminars once 
a month, allowing teachers who are working 
with young children during the week to take 
part 

• Providing students with training materials, 
textbooks and tuition stipends 

• Including culturally relevant issues and ma- 
terials 

3. Working to ensure the future continuation of the 

program 

• Identifying future instructors 

• Mentoring new faculty taking on the new 
rounds of courses 

• Providing kits of materials to the tribal col- 
leges to facilitate the teaching of the courses 
on their own in the future 


Factors Leading to Success 
For those hoping to initiate similar programs, 
there seemed to be three major factors that con- 
tributed to the project’s success (Table 3). The 
first critical factor was the active involvement 
and support of groups both on and off the res- 
ervation. Having local college faculty take part 
in the courses was especially beneficial because 
it helped to ensure that there would be some- 
one on staff, trained to teach the courses. 

Other important factors were sensitivity and 
responsiveness to students’ needs and cultures. 
Teaching courses on-site made an important 
difference in the success of this partnership. 
Overwhelmingly, students reported they had 


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not participated in telecourses that had been of- 
fered because they preferred to have the in- 
structor available in person. They also stated 
that becoming familiar with course instructors 
was one of the main reasons they continued to 
take the courses. Sharing food was one way 
instructors built rapport with the students; this 
is an important tradition in many Native Amer- 
ican cultures. Taking time for this seemed to 
contribute to building camaraderie, adding to a 
“community of learners” atmosphere. Recog- 
nizing the expertise that the participating stu- 
dents bring to class is another important factor 
in making this type of program successful. 
Course participants bring the richness of their 
cultural traditions, ideas they have used in their 
own classrooms, and community connections 
they can share with each other. 

A final key to success was planning for the 
continuation of the courses from the outset of 
the project. This involved identifying and 
mentoring future course instructors. It also in- 
cluded providing materials to the local colleg- 
es that would allow them to easily continue 
teaching the courses.' 

Establishing partnerships with tribal colleg- 
es can be a very effective way of reaching an 
underserved segment of our population. Pro- 
viding this type of educational opportunity 
makes it possible for people with long-term 
interest in their communities to develop the 
skills and competencies they need to serve the 
children and families of their area. 

REFERENCES 

Bailey, D., Buysse, V., & Palsha, S. (1990). Self- 
ratings of professional knowledge and skill in 
early intervention. Journal of Special Educa- 
tion, 23, 423-435. 

Bruchac, J. (1997). Keepers of the Earth: Native 
American Stories and Environmental Activites 
for Children. Golden, CO: Fulcrum. 

Cochran, C. (2000). South Dakota kid*s count fact- 


' The Higher Education Partnership Project overheads, syllabi, 
course competencies, and other course information are available, 
at cost, to others interested in initiating similar projects. They can 
be accessed by calling the authors at the Center for Disabilities at 
The University of South Dakota and the University of South Da- 
kota School of Education at 1 -800-658-3080A^TTY, 


book. Vermillion, SD: University of South Da- 
kota Business Research Bureau. 

Cohen, J. (1988). Statistical power analysis for the 
behavioral sciences (2nd ed.). Hillsdale, NJ: 
Erlbaum. 

Fallon, M. (1996). Case-study teaching: A tool for 
training early interventionists. Infants and 
Young Children, 8, 59-62. 

Forest, S. (1990). An analysis of parental involve- 
ment, least restrictive environments, and prep- 
aration of personnel in ECSE classrooms. Pier- 
re, SD: South Dakota Department of Education 
and Cultural Affairs. 

Fox, L., Hanline, M. E, Vail, C. & Galant, K. (1994). 
Developmental ly appropriate practice: Applica- 
tions for young children with disabilities. Jour- 
nal of Early Intervention, 18, 243-257. 

Martin, R. (1992). The Rough-Face Girl. New 
York: Scholastic. 

Squires, J. (1995). Evaluation of a rural-based early 
intervention personnel preparation project. 
Journal of Early Intervention, 19, 328-342. 

Snyder, R, & Wolfe, B. (1997). Needs assessment 
and evaluation in early intervention personnel 
preparation: Opportunities and challenges. In P 
J. Winton, J. A. McCollum, & C. Catlett (Eds.). 
Reforming personnel preparation in early inter- 
vention: Issues, models, and practical strategies 
(pp. 173-190). Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes. 

Winton, P. J,, & McCollum, J. A. (1997) Ecological 
perspective on personnel preparation: Ratio- 
nale, framework, and guidelines for change. In 
P. J. Winton, J. A. McCollum, & C. Catlett 
(Eds.). Reforming personnel preparation in 
early intervention: Issues, models, and practi- 
cal strategies (pp. 1-25). Baltimore: Paul H. 
Brookes. 

Wolfe, B., & Snyder, P. (1997). Follow-up strate- 
gies: Ensuring that instruction makes a differ- 
ence. In P. J. Winton, J. A. McCollum, & C. 
Catlett (Eds.). Reforming personnel prepara- 
tion in early intervention: Issues, models, and 
practical strategies (pp. 173-190). Baltimore: 
Paul H. Brookes. 


The authors wish to acknowledge the support of the 
project by the U.S. Department of Health and Hu- 
man Services, Administration on Developmental 
Disabilities, Grant #90DD0294, the South Dakota 
Office of Special Education, the South Dakota Uni- 
versity Affiliated Program, and the faculty, admin- 
istrators, students, and families on the Rosebud and 
Pine Ridge Reservations. 

Address correspondence to Geralyn Jacobs, Uni- 
versity of South Dakota, 414 E. Clark Street, Ver- 
million, South Dakota 57069. E-mail: Gja- 
cobs@usd.edu. 


Jacobs et aL 


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