Dean named first recipient of fellowship honoring Four Rivers co-founder

  • Claire Blatchford on the Four Rivers Charter Public School campus in Greenfield. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • MATT LEAF

  • Four Rivers Charter Public School Dean of Students Matt Leaf and Claire Blatchford by the ancient maple trees on the campus in Greenfield. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 5/14/2021 5:33:45 PM

GREENFIELD — When Four Rivers Charter Public School co-founder Edward W. Blatchford died April 19, 2020, from complications of late-stage Parkinson’s disease and the COVID-19 virus, his wife and daughters knew they wanted to honor him in some way, but weren’t sure how. That is, until they decided to create the Edward W. Blatchford Learning Fellowship.

“We wanted to honor Ed, who was a lifelong educator who supported many others in their own journeys to become better educators,” his wife Claire Blatchford said.

Over his 45 years in education, Blatchford said her husband was often aware of how hard it was for many of the faculty and staff he worked with to find opportunities for continued learning, intellectual and spiritual refreshment, or even to pursue advanced or specialized studies in fields they were interested in.

“He often spoke of the importance of nurturing dreams and trying to provide opportunities for discovery and empowerment,” Blatchford said.

This year, Dean of Students Matt Leaf received the first award of the five-year fellowship. The fellowship provides $5,000 to a member of the Four Rivers faculty or staff — someone seeking “continued learning, refreshment or deeper knowledge.”

“I was thrilled to receive the fellowship,” Leaf said. “I have such immense gratitude. I will use it to get my International Institute for Restorative Practices Graduate School master’s certificate in restorative practices.”

Restorative practices is a social science that studies how to improve and repair relationships between people and communities. The purpose is to build healthy communities, increase social capital, decrease crime and antisocial behavior, repair harm and restore relationships.

Leaf started at Four Rivers teaching seventh-grade history and English. He said he always loved Edward Blatchford’s belief that every child has some genius to share with his or her community, a belief Leaf has adopted himself. Rather than disciplining students, he said teachers and administrators should work with them so they can become the best they can be.

The fellowship will not only allow Leaf to work on the certificate, but to bring back to the school what he has learned, as well as ideas for teaching and learning.

Leaf said many people believe restorative practices is something new, but it’s not.

“While it’s an emerging field of work and study, it’s far from new,” he said. “It has Indigenous roots. Native groups on this land used restorative practices as did the Maori of New Zealand.”

Leaf said he’s excited to start working on the certificate and even more excited to bring his knowledge back to the local school.

“It’s about community building and how to handle when harm is done,” he said. “I want to go deep. I want to bring it here to help teachers and students.”

He’d also like to work with youths in other local public schools.

“Actually, this year a group of our students will introduce conflict resolution to students in other schools,” he said. “This is what we do — get skills like this in the hands of our educators and students. These are our future leaders.”

Blatchford said she and her daughters, Laurel and Christa, hope interest in the fellowship continues to grow.

“Learning never ends,” she said. “This, I hope, can help.”

A different person will receive the fellowship each year through 2025.

“Ed (who died at age 76) would love this,” Blatchford said. “He was all about this.”

Born in Boston, Edward Blatchford was a lifelong educator and a passionate advocate for holistic education, his wife said. He co-founded Four Rivers Charter Public School (grades seven through 12) with current Assistant Principal Susan Durkee, and it opened its doors to students in 2003. Today, it educates more than 200 students each year from across Franklin County.

Prior to Four Rivers, Edward Blatchford and his wife ran an alternative school for two years called Uplook School, which was based in Second Congregational Church.

For more information about the Edward W. Blatchford Learning Fellowship, email ewbfellowship@gmail.com.




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