MIDDLEBURY, VERMONT – The Middlebury Bread Loaf School of English (BLSE), a summer graduate program tailored to K-12 English teachers, will participate in a major initiative to improve health education and access to healthy foods on the Navajo Nation. The initiative, Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH), is being supported by a three-year, $3 million grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, awarded to the nonprofit organization Partners In Health (PIH). BLSE has been named one of twenty coalition members working with PIH.
“We are excited to be a part of this important work, which extends Bread Loaf’s mission to put education into action as a force for social change” said Emily Bartels, director of the Bread Loaf School of English. “Through the Bread Loaf Teacher Network, we will establish four Community Health Outreach (REACH-CHO) Centers in Navajo high schools, providing training in digital and literacy skills for a select cohort of Navajo students. In turn, the students will work closely with PIH teams as community advocates and documentarians to carry the story of better health and food practices across the Navajo Nation. What better testimony to the power of youth and of the humanities can there be?”
Bartels notes that the Bread Loaf Teacher Network (BLTN), a nationally visible professional development network dedicated to creating innovative, student-centered education, is well suited for this kind of work. The project will build on established BLTN initiatives, including the NavajoKentuckians, a food literacy collective of students and teachers from Louisville, Kentucky, and the Navajo Nation. It also builds on workshops on writing and the teaching of writing that BLTN teachers run in collaboration with teachers and students at the Santa Fe Indian School.
BLTN Director Dixie Goswami will supervise the Bread Loaf portion of the project over the three years of the grant. Goswami, along with Bread Loaf faculty members and BLTN members, will work with Rex Lee Jim, vice president of the Navajo Nation and Bread Loaf graduate.
“We want to link directly academic knowledge and skills to local problem solving,” said Vice President Jim. “[The project] allows our Navajo children to use local stories and knowledge to solve problems created by the imposition of outside know-how. Our children will learn early on that what they learn in the classroom can be used to improve quality of life on the Navajo Nation.”
The grant is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services initiative to support public health. It is administered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and will be managed by PIH’s New Mexico-based organization, Community Outreach and Patient Empowerment (COPE), which seeks to address chronic disease health disparities in the Navajo Nation.
“We see this grant as a unique opportunity to change the landscape of healthy living across Navajo Nation,” said Dr. Sonya Shin, COPE Director. “Within these ambitious aims, a key role will be that of high school students as change agents and communicators to their families, schools, and communities.”
“The kind of training, networking, and outreach that are central to the Bread Loaf program have been embraced by the CDC and PIH as key resources for transforming global health practices and education,” said Bartels. “We know that Bread Loaf itself will be transformed by its growing collaboration with the Navajo Nation and PIH, and we are grateful for the opportunity to work with dedicated partners to help bring youth writing and digital storytelling to the service of public health.”