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Charter school collaborates with K-12 schools

GREENFIELD — For the first time in its 12-year history, Four Rivers Charter School is collaborating with some Franklin County public high schools to share ideas.

The public college preparatory middle and high school on Colrain Road is consulting with the Mohawk Trail Reginal High School and Greenfield High School for free to implement some of its program ideas like an end-of-the-year capstone project for seniors. The two traditional high schools reached out to the public charter school this year.

Mohawk teachers approached the charter school last spring to find out how to implement a senior expedition or capstone project. “Nothing makes us happier,” said Assistant Principal of Four Rivers Susan Durkee. “We’re so psyched for every opportunity we have to share and collaborate.”

Four Rivers was formed in 2002 on a historic farmstead and is affiliated with Expeditionary Learning Schools, a national nonprofit organization that partners with schools to improve student achievement, build student character, enhance teacher practices, and instill a positive school culture.

Four Rivers has long welcomed the idea of sharing ideas with its neighboring K-12 public school districts. In the past, the charter school has worked with schools in Boston. Just as Four Rivers can share ideas with the regular high schools, Durkee believes she can also borrow ideas from the K-12 schools as well.

“The whole purpose of education reform is to share differences so we can all get better. Charters were meant to be like lab schools. We see ourselves as collaborators not competitors,” Durkee said.

Historically, regular public school systems throughout the nation have viewed charter schools — non-unionized hubs of education reform ideas — as competition for public funds and students since the alternative schools became increasingly popular in the 1990s. Since 2008, Four Rivers has required students to meet twice a week to develop a proposal for the final project and then carry out the project. The class also provides students time and skills for college applications. In the fall, the Mohawk teachers plan to return to watch the students set up the project, which involves creating a grading rubric and expectations, according to Durkee.

“I have no doubt that the excellent educators at Mohawk will come up with ideas that’ll help us change how I do things here,” Durkee said. “It’s not one way. We can learn and grow if people want to work with us.”

Past examples of senior projects include a student travelling to Boston to learn how to create shadow puppets and make a film. Other students teamed up to create a permaculture garden and mural for an outdoor classroom space.

In Greenfield, Durkee met with some high school teachers over the summer to help build an advisory program. At Four Rivers, the advisory program serves as a homeroom period in which students work on their portfolios and discuss school issues. There are 12 students per group or what is called a “crew” at Four Rivers and three crews per grade.

You can reach Kathleen McKiernan at: kmckiernan@recorder.com or 413-772-0261 ext. 268 On Twitter, follow @RecorderKatMcK

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