Two Four Rivers teachers receive fellowships to make education ‘an ongoing adventure’

  • Four Rivers Charter Public School Spanish teachers Elizabeth Rodriguez-Salas and Rebecca Rice pose for a photo. The two each received a $5,000 Edward W. Blatchford Learning Fellowship. Contributed photo

Staff Writer
Published: 5/24/2022 4:21:55 PM

GREENFIELD — In an unexpected turn of events, two teachers — as opposed to one — were named as recipients of this year’s $5,000 Edward W. Blatchford Learning Fellowship.

Named in honor of Edward W. Blatchford, co-founder of Four Rivers Charter Public School, the fellowship was created to recognize individuals “who demonstrate a need and a dream … that would make them a better teacher,” according to Claire Blatchford, who established the award with her daughters as a way of honoring her husband. The fellowship, which provides $5,000 to a member of the Four Rivers faculty or staff, was first awarded to Dean of Students Matt Leaf in 2021 with the intention of recognizing one faculty member each year.

“This year, however, because friends and the larger family were inspired by last year’s winner and spontaneously contributed to the fellowship, we were — to our surprise and delight — able to give two fellowships,” Blatchford explained.

With additional money to award, she said, the family had to decide whether to recognize two teachers this year or to extend the five-year fellowship. Ultimately, it was the applications of two candidates — Spanish teachers Elizabeth Rodriguez-Salas and Rebecca Rice — who made that decision easy.

“There were two applicants who were very strong,” Blatchford said. “Why don’t they both get it?”

Rodriguez-Salas, an Ashfield resident, said she was honored to be a recipient of this year’s award.

“It’s a huge responsibility, because you want to make sure the funds go to something that is really meaningful,” she said. “I think I have the right path. I just feel honored to be chosen.”

Rodriguez-Salas said she plans to put the money toward an online master’s program in racial and social justice at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

“I’m a native speaker of Chile, and I’m a person that brings a lot of diversity to my workplace and everything I do,” she explained. “I think issues of racial and social justice, for me … it’s important for me to dive deep into learning more of it.”

Rice, meanwhile, plans to use the money to complete her yoga certification through Trillium Ayurveda & Yoga in Orange and pursue coursework with Mindful Schools.

“I’m interested in finding ways to incorporate that style of teaching into the classroom and sharing that with other teachers as well,” Rice said. “I think students can really benefit from that work. I think a lot of students are hesitant to dive deep in the reflection of themselves because it can be really scary when you’re a teenager to figure out what that means, but also ... it’s really connected to our school at its core mission and values.”

With this training, Rice hopes to help teachers and students find balance in their lives.

“I want people to discover that school doesn’t have to be all about stress and deadlines and grades and making sure we get into the most perfect college we imagined,” Rice said.

She added that the course in nonviolent communication at Mindful Schools offers discourse on how to build mindfulness practices to combat racism and recognize moments for better equity at Four Rivers.

“This will aid our work with the Faculty and Students for Racial and Social Justice … which I’m lucky to be a part of,” Rice said.

In the first year of the fellowship, Leaf used the award to assist in his pursuit of a master’s certificate at the International Institute for Restorative Practices Graduate School.

Sitting outside the school, Blatchford recalled her husband’s desire to continue helping Four Rivers even after he retired as head of school in 2009.

“In all the years he had come home, he’d worry about the faculty,” she said.

In 2020, she said, her husband died from complications of late-stage Parkinson’s disease and COVID-19, prompting the family to find a way in which to honor him.

“In these times, you really need to encourage people,” Blatchford said, adding that she hopes the fellowship reminds people that education is “an ongoing adventure.”

“You take one step and then another step. The idea,” she said, “is to keep going.”

Reporter Mary Byrne can be reached at or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne


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