Youth Literacy for Community Health: Navajo Nation Collaboration Begins

Dec 16th, 2014 | By | Category: BLTN Teachers, Fall 2014
DGLaugingby Dixie Goswami
BLTN Director

Building from the work that began at Fern Creek High School in 2012 with Bread Loaf’s Brent Peters and Joe Franzen’s food studies program and Paul Barnwell’s (MA  ’13) digital curriculum and came to form the Navajo Kentuckians,  BLTN is moving with its partners in intentional ways to influence policy and enact social change through education.  The most recent BLTN work along those lines is the Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH) project.

Project Snapshot

The Navajo Nation, Partners in Health (PIH) and BLTN will lead REACH Community Health Outreach Youth Leadership programs to

  1. increase food literacy among Navajo youth;
  2. empower youth to participate in REACH communications and model healthy practices among their peers, families, and communities;
  3. develop a cadre of Navajo youth advocates who effectively communicate the connection between food access, health, and chronic disease prevention;
  4. involve Navajo high school students in communications across the spectrum of REACH activities to increase Navajo youth food literacy;
  5. produce a model with documented processes, outcomes and mentorship frameworks replicating REACH CHO centers in Navajo and elsewhere;
  6. communicate for a primary audience of the youth leaders’ peers and families, tribal and health system leadership, all residents in Navajo Nation, and especially high-risk families.

REACH NCHO will gather stories from across the spectrum of community health teams in order to promote REACH / COPE resources and produce videos, flyers, digital tool-kits for dissemination across multiple communication channels: PIH website and social media platform, a youth-led blog and coalition Facebook pages.

Dixie Goswami
Bread Loaf Teacher Network Director

First Steps

I returned last week to Window Rock after many years to meet with Dr. Sonya Shin, of Partners in Health, and director of the Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH) / Community Outreach and Patient Empowerment (COPE) coalition, including our own Navajo Community Health Outreach team. We learned from each other about challenges, constraints, resources and possibilities of our recently forged partnership. (Bread Loaf is one of the “national partner” organizations described in the award announcement.) Dr. Shin, speaking about Navajo community outreach, noted that young people were being involved as change agents, leaders, and sources of understanding and insight. She voiced her hope that they would serve as a model and guide for Partners in Health’s international programs, using visual exchanges, internships, and visits to international conferences to connect. Navajo Nation Vice President Rex Lee Jim, REACH NCHO director, emphasized the role of the young people:

“In this program to improve the quality of life on the Navajo Nation, they will use their talent and energy to make a difference . . . [T]he selection process will be based on their passionate commitment to positive change.” Shel Sax, Bread Loaf’s Director of Technology,  added, “They will use electronic and print technologies to document and publicly voice their ideas, knowledge, and concerns regarding an important issue in their lives.”


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A November meeting of the REACH/COPE initiative took place at Window Rock High School, where Evelyn Begody teaches. Evelyn, a Bread Loaf graduate and current MLitt student, is a member of the Navajo Kentuckians, and a NCHO leader. A viewing of “Navajo Kentuckians: Cultivating Food Literacy,” filmed by Ed Dooley at Middlebury College in October 2013, opened the NCHO presentation, set the tone, and provided the context for all that followed, with much enthusiasm and interest in the food literacy and digital media learning that Joe Franzen, Brent Peters, and Paul Barnwell have created at Fern Creek Traditional High School in Kentucky.

Bread Loafers Vice President Jim, Evelyn, Dwight Largie, Shel Sax, Emily Bartels, Ceci Lewis, Damian Baca, and Tom McKenna participated—Emily, Damian, and Tom by phone and webinar, the rest of us in person. Phil Sittnick, who became a member of the Bread Loaf Rural Teacher Network in 1994, came on Sunday from Thoreau, New Mexico, where he teaches, to join the NCHO team to work with Shel, Tom, and REACH/COPE on technology. The presence of Evelyn’s Food Lit students inspired and enlivened the events on Monday. As we learned about Navajo Nation food and nutrition facts and policy, their comments and questions advanced the conversation. Vice President Jim’s vision of NCHO making a difference here and abroad seemed likely in this company.

The founding Navajo youth members of BLTN (all Window Rock High School students) are Ty Fierce Mattebo, Jade Goodwill ,Taylor Abasta, Brownson Gould, Alvarra Yazzie, Cassidy Morgan, Tiffany Silas, Ashley Lansing, Kayla Long, and Alicia Neswood. See the

Your comments and ideas are welcome.

The Navajo Kentuckians met at the NCTE conference in Washington, DC, last month, forging and deepening connections among NCHO, ABL/Lawrence BLTN,  and Vermont BLTN. See the related article in this issue.


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