“BreadNet’s become a lifeline, connecting me to those I need, adding a dimension to my teaching that I can’t measure.”
Such were the 1987 sentiments of Ken Holvig MA ’86 concerning the communications network developed in 1983 to connect Bread Loaf teachers throughout the year. After a grant of 25 computers from Apple the following summer led to the opening of the “Apple Cellar” on the Vermont campus, Dixie Goswami watched as 25 Bread Loaf rural teachers “lined up at the end of the summer to receive a loaner computer and a modem, to be returned the following June.”
The rest, as they say, is history.
Goswami, Bread Loaf faculty member and coordinator of the writing curriculum, as well as professor emerita at Clemson University, is the founder and inspiration for the network of teachers who have been connecting for years about literature, writing, critical thinking, and the art of teaching—first by phone and mail, later via e-mail, and now through online conferences and other digital media.
This summer, the network is celebrating its official 20th birthday: In 1993, the Bread Loaf Rural Teacher Network (BLRTN) was established with grants from the Dewitt Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund, the Carnegie Corporation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and other donors, including several school districts that acknowledged the value of the network’s groundbreaking efforts to democratize the teaching of reading and writing and put students at the center of the learning process as collaborating peers. Originally intended to help teachers in remote and underserved public schools bring what they learned at Bread Loaf directly back to their classrooms, BLRTN has expanded its partnerships to include all members of the Bread Loaf community and is now known as BLTN.
Though diverse in their opinions, experiences, and culture, members share a strong belief that the Bread Loaf program is the heart of the network. By building on the unique strengths of Bread Loaf study—immersive student-centered classroom approaches, transformative relationships, invigorating interrogations of literature and language—throughout the year and around the globe, BLTN has promoted the efforts of hundreds of teachers and cultivated engagement with thousands of their students.
In Tanzania, Port-au-Prince, Mumbai, and Nairobi, as well as core U.S.-based chapters in places such as North Carolina, Kentucky, Ohio, Arizona, and Massachusetts, BLTN members are developing innovative approaches to teaching and learning inspired by Bread Loaf courses, faculty, and fellow students. With support from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, BLTN is now charting new directions digitally, continuing its legacy of promoting pedagogical practices with dynamic teacher-to-teacher support. “[BLTN] connects us as a group to benefit our students,” writes Sandra Farrakhan, BLTN Dodge Fellowship recipient and New Jersey teacher. “It expands my view and vision of teaching and affords me an opportunity to be included in other people’s worlds and for other people to be included in mine.”
And indeed, for all the technological advancements that have made connecting easier, the people making those collaborative connections are the source of the network’s success, sustaining and expanding the significance of BLTN as we look forward to the next 20 years.