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Head of new Northfield school introduces himself

Recorder/David Rainville
John Massey, founder of Redemption Christian Academy.

Recorder/David Rainville John Massey, founder of Redemption Christian Academy.

NORTHFIELD — When a New York boarding school moves into the former Linden Hill School next month, it’s getting a lot more than a campus.

“At first, we thought we were just buying a piece of property,” said John Massey, founder of Redemption Christian Academy of Troy, N.Y. “It’s more. It’s interwoven with the whole community.”

Massey came to Tuesday’s Selectboard meeting to introduce himself, put a face on the school, and answer any questions the board had about his school.

When he was done, he received a round of applause from the audience of nearly 20, several of whom left afterward, to catch him in the hallway for a chat.

Redemption plans to keep its Troy campus as well, and will continue to host day and boarding programs for pre-kindergarten through sixth grade there.

Though he wasn’t originally interested in the Linden Hill campus, after subsequent visits, he said he fell in love with the area, and the campus’ potential.

Massey’s interest in the Linden Hill property literally goes from the ground up.

“Some of the best soil in the world is found on the Connecticut River,” said Massey, who seeks to integrate farming into the school’s curriculum.

Though he’s an educator, Massey believes agriculture is the cornerstone of civilization. He also thinks its an ideal way to teach his students the value of hard work.

“We hope to have some type of apprenticeship, where our students can learn a trade from local farmers,” Massey said. “It’s free help to the farmers, and at the same time, the kids are learning the dignity of labor.” He said the school would also tend its own fields on campus.

Massey is no stranger to farming.

“We had a farm about 20 years ago, and I felt it was integral to education,” said Massey. “It helps the kids understand what sustainability is. If you don’t prioritize agriculture, you don’t have anything.”

That type of thinking could fit right into Northfield, a town proud to call itself “a right-to-farm community.”

“If you ask him how to spell his name, he’ll tell you it’s just like Massey Ferguson (tractors),” said Alex Stewart, at a recent meeting.

Stewart has met Massey several times since the RCA founder came to town, along with several other groups, to be considered for the former Northfield Mount Hermon School campus earlier this year.

Though RCA was turned down for the free campus, the property’s owners, the billionaire Green family of Oklahoma, encouraged its two finalists to set aside space for the boarding school.

When the campus was offered to Grand Canyon University, it was clear there would be no room for RCA. GCU planned to expand the 500-student campus to accommodate 5,000.

That was met with a lot of resistance from some residents, who thought the college was just too big for the little town of 3,000.

The reaction to RCA has been more welcoming, perhaps because the small school plans to host about 125 students in junior-high to post-grad programs.

“I’m amazed with how amicable everyone in town is,” said Massey, who has visited Northfield several times in the past months. “We’ve received such unmerited, unwarranted hospitality.”

Massey said he and his wife, Joan, may consider moving their home to town as well.

They hope to make the campus something the school and the town can be proud of.

“We want it to be a place that people look at and say, ‘wow, did you see what they did with Linden Hill? What a transformation,’” said Massey.

Massey founded RCA in 1979. The school bills itself as one of four traditionally African-American boarding schools left in the country, though it teaches students from all ethnic backgrounds.

Massey said the nationalities represented in the student body provides another teachable moment. Some of the students come from countries that have long, less than friendly histories with each other, like Greece and Macedonia, according to Massey. Integrating all the students forces them to put their differences aside, he said.

He said it also gives him a chance to dissuade their notions that America is a bully in the geopolitical sphere.

“They say the best and worst of everything is in America,” said Massey. “We try to show our students the best.”

David Rainville can be reached at:
drainville@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 279

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