I’ve been so energized by teaching at the Bread Loaf School of English this summer that now that the term is over and the fall term approaches, I find myself thinking more and more about all I learned this summer. What I saw, over and over, were the most remarkable teachers imaginable at work: working against sometimes insuperable odds (in terms of state and local regulations and in sometimes deplorable conditions), these teachers are finding ways to reach young people and to engage them in deep, active learning through reading, writing, speaking, and performing.
One especially powerful demonstration came when I was introduced to What’s the Story: The Vermont Young People Social Action Team, a course that brings together students from over a dozen schools in Vermont to engage in “a collaborative process of identifying and researching local topics of interest, drafting and publishing position papers, as well as designing, creating, and using media to effect positive change." Part online and part in-person, the course pairs student learner/activists with mentors at their schools and experts in policy making, social action, environmental science, and so on. Students in this very special class earn graduation credit under Vermont’s Act 77, “which promotes flexible pathways to graduation.” The brainchild of Vermont teachers at Bread Loaf, What’s the Story has been a huge success, so much so that the leaders of the project are looking for ways to scale up.
Students across the state are invited to apply and each year-long course enrolls a cohort of 15 to 20 participants. And they love it. As one participant says, “I like working toward a goal in this course, seeing how the project evolves, and having the motivation to get the work done so that I will make change.” Another adds, “We are heading this project, not the teachers. If we ask for help, we get advice, but that’s it; this is our project.”
I’d love to see similar projects springing up all over the country, and it strikes me that college writing programs might well become partners in the endeavor as well.