What’s the Story? at Bellows Free Academy: A Vermont Collaboration

Feb 10th, 2019 | By | Category: Featured, Winter 2019

Nate Archambault
English Teacher
Bellows Free Academy
St. Albans, VT
BLSE 2018

The dust had barely settled on my Bread Loaf School of English diploma when I returned from an invigorating and challenging summer on the mountain, a place that I consider one of my homes, to another home, my high school alma mater and place of employment for the last thirteen years, Bellows Free Academy (BFA), St. Albans, to begin another school year of teaching and learning.

BFA has stood near the center of the small city of St. Albans since 1931.  Much has changed in education since those early days. As Vermont moves to fully integrate proficiency based education for all students, BFA has opened up to creating alternate pathways for learning.  The timing, as I returned in late August, certainly seemed right to attempt to bring a little bit of Bread Loaf into the educational experience of the hard working high school students that I see on a daily basis.  Through my years at Bread Loaf, I became increasingly involved in the Bread Loaf Teacher Network and, specifically, with BLTN Vermont’s What’s the Story? the Vermont Young People Social Action Team (WtS? VT), a program designed to transform traditional classroom education and empower high school students from around the state.  I have seen, as a WTS? mentor, the impact that the program has had on so many intelligent and inspiring young people. It is for this reason that I suggested a WtS course be offered through BFA’s program of studies as a credit bearing semester long course.  

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I wrote a proposal with input from WtS? Vermont’s Tim O’Leary and Bill Rich, and BFA’s Department Head Council then reviewed and approved the course. Next, the Maple Run Unified School District School Board approved the course.  It is with great pleasure that I am able to say that BFA will officially be offering a What’s the Story? course during the the 2019-20 academic year.

I am thrilled to help put BFA St. Albans at the forefront of positive change for Vermont students.  My involvement in WtS has been overwhelmingly positive, and I have seen firsthand the empowering effect that it has had on young people. Having participated in the genesis and growth of WtS since 2013, I am grateful for the perspective that will inform WtS? St. Albans.

I first became involved with WtS? through BLTN’s Vermont teacher fellowship program in 2013. I began the summer of 2014 with an invitation from DixieGoswami to attend a small and intimate picnic gathering of Vermont educators and Bread Loaf stalwarts.  Little did I know that that gathering would plant the seed of WtS? at BFA. This was also the summer that I took a course titled Writing, Technologies, and Digital Cultures that was co-taught by Andrea Lunsford and Adam Banks. Andrea’s brilliant work truly proves that anyone and everyone can be an author. Andrea and Adam helped me to change my perspective on writing and teaching. I came to understand that we are all storytellers in ways that we may not even know exist. When we or our students perceive that we don’t have a story to tell, we do well to think about whether the problem is that we may not have fully realized what media we have available to discover and tell a story. It is this realization that sparked a shift in what I was asking students to say and how I was asking them to say it—a conviction that would inform my advocacy for What’s the Story?.

Another important learning event came in the  summer of 2016. I jumped at the opportunity to take Writing and Acting for Change, a Bread Loaf course co-taught by Dixie Goswami, Andrea Lunsford, and John Elder.  The course gave me a desire and strategies to build better and stronger communities among students, their local spheres, and the world at large. Dixie has always emphasized the impact that the voices of young people can have if you put people in a position to listen.  I began shifting the sort of writing that I asked of my students. I encouraged them to submit writing for publication through various outlets. I spoke more about being the sparks of change in a world that can always be improved for the better. In addition, I encouraged students to apply to be a part of WtS?.  Over the years, nine BFA students have been accepted to be a part of the WtS? program. All of them have benefitted from a greater sense of their own community and a more inclusive and inquisitive approach to the world at large.

Launching What’s the Story? BFA is a gratifying culmination of much work with many wonderful mentors and students who are committed to giving students voice and tools for change. Personally, I am learning that Bread Loaf never leaves a person. Just as one can join fellow English lovers to physically return to the mountain and to breathe the crisp air, I make constant intellectual returns as well. Bread Loaf lessons continue to shift my approach to my students and my world. WtS? Vermont is living and breathing and growing in WtS? BFA. It is an exciting time to be a teacher in Vermont, especially with the support of the BLTN family.  Wish me luck!

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