Family Literacy Nights: The Bread Loaf Teacher Network’s cross-site promotion of literacy through the lens of social justice and community-building in public schools

Young students and families came out on a hot and beautiful evening in May for the first Family Literacy Night at Mary Hogan School (K-6) in Middlebury, Vermont. Some showed up thirty minutes early, eager to find out what it was all about. All enjoyed a free meal, writing with friends and families, and connecting with others.

As first time organizers, we didn’t know if 12 people would walk in the door, if there would be hot food when we said there would be hot food, if people would leave when we started writing, or if anyone would step to the microphone.

Everything worked out more beautifully than we could have ever expected, and it’s because of the collective genius, experiences, and relationships within the Bread Loaf Teacher Network.

When asked to organize this evening, I immediately reached out to my good friend and colleague, Lou Bernieri at Phillips Academy: Andover, who has designed and run Family Literacy Nights for years in the Lawrence Public Schools (MA). Our plan for Middlebury was based on the success of the great work in Lawrence, MA.

Food and materials were purchased with Title 1 funding, which comes from the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESSA) and provides financial assistance to schools with high percentages of children from low-income families. Parent volunteers cooked and served food.

By 5:30 pm 100 people had arrived and were ready to eat pasta (which fortunately was ready for them!), by 6:00 pm we moved through three different writing prompts, and by 6:30 pm we began our open-mic portion of the evening. Families left with writing supplies and games to continue this in their own homes.

It was no surprise that the young people were powerful, brilliant, and inspiring. Youth as young as four came up to the microphone and shared their creations with an inviting community. This is the way to prepare youth for challenging state academic standards: build communities and relationships; feed people with food, love, and writing; and connect them with others.

It was beautiful.


Respectfully Submitted,

Tim O’Leary,

Technology Innovation Specialist & Curriculum Coordinator, Addison Central School District (Middlebury, Vermont)

BLSE ‘07; Co-Director of BLTN-Vermont and What’s the Story? The Vermont Social Action Team

Tim O'Leary

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