Faculty and Partnering Organizations2019-02-02T12:00:20+00:00


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Melinda Alcosser and Maria Mortali


m&m birdingThe Connecticut Experiential Learning Center (CELC) was founded to make the middle school years what they must be:  a time and a place where young people discover the thrill of learning, master academic subjects, make good friends, and understand themselves.  Connecticut Experiential Learning Center enables students to build confidence and competence, thrive and be joyful during these years.

Led by educators who provide young people with experiences that allow them to stretch and explore their potential, CELC was founded in Spring 2009 by Melinda Alcosser and Maria Mortali.  Throughout their years of teaching in a small middle school setting, they continue to witness just how powerful this model of school can be.

CT Experiential Learning Center faculty

Melinda’s undergraduate work at Antioch College included a self-designed major entitled “Movement, Rhythm, and Culture” which combined the study of dance, ethnomusicology, and anthropology.  She began teaching in 1987 for the Music and Art Center for the Humanity. From there she became certified in music, preK-12, from the Yale Teacher Preparation Program. She received an MS degree in Environmental Education and preK-6 certification in Elementary Education from Southern Connecticut State University. Melinda attended the University of Rhode Island’s Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies where she received her certification as a level one trainer in Kingian Nonviolence. Melinda has taught in New Haven at Betsy Ross Arts Magnet, Co-op HS and at the Cold Spring School and was a middle school teacher at Wightwood/Pine Brook for 15 years. Melinda is also a percussionist and has an organization called Hands-On-Rhythm, where she teaches drumming and other music from around the world to people of all ages. She is the mother of two girls and has lived in the Guilford area since 1997.

MMMaria has had a variety of life experiences that led her to become a middle school instructor, including restaurant management, accounting, professional cook and caterer, and editor. She ran her own daycare for many years and continues to work as a private tutor, for students ranging from elementary age through college in many subjects, including Grammar, Writing, Reading, Geometry, Algebra and Physics. Maria worked as a substitute teacher as well as a middle school teacher at Wightwood School where she taught Spanish, U. S. History, Language Arts, and Math. She studied at Purdue University as an undergraduate. Maria is a Branford “lifer” who raised two boys, now grown men, who are making their way in the world!

Additional Faculty and Staff

Art instructor, Jennifer Lee

As a recently retired art teacher from Cooperative Art and Humanities (Co-Op) High School in New Haven, Jennifer Lee welcomes the opportunity to teach the CELC students. Ms. Lee started her own education with a B.A. in studio art from Allegheny College in Pennsylvania and a M.A. in studio art from New York University, with a concentration in painting and printmaking. Over the years, enrichment studies have included work at New Hampshire Institute of Art, Kansas City Art Institute, and Savannah College of Art and Design. Ms. Lee was the recipient of an English-Speaking Union scholarship to Oxford. She received a Maine College of Art fellowship, a TICA (Teacher Institute of Contemporary Art) scholarship at the Art Institute of Chicago and a SURDNA fellowship to study portraiture in London and mixed-media at Art New England.  Ms. Lee created a unit on portraiture for the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute. She initiated Co-Op high school’s chapter of the National Art Honor Society and added a Fashion and Wearable Art elective to the Visual Arts program of studies at the high school. Her articles have appeared in School Arts magazine; she has exhibited on both coasts and was College Board certified to teach the three portfolios for Advanced Placement Studio Art. 

Spanish instructor, Adriana Castillo is a resident of Branford, CT, who migrated from Colombia forty years ago with her family.

Adriana has a son, Nick, who is living in NYC as an independent adult.

She has a Bachelor’s in Graphic Arts and Associate’s in Spanish Literature from Southern Connecticut University.

Adriana has over twenty years of experience teaching all ages from K – high school grades, including individual and group tutoring. She has traveled abroad with middle school students over the years.

Adriana has many interests outside the classroom: triathlete, volunteer in her community and worldwide/Habitat for Humanity, traveler, and student of Italian.

CELC and EducArte ARTshowdaniela photo bio copyDaniela Balzano resides in Guilford, CT with her two children, Luna and Solomon. She has

worked as an art educator, artist, and muralist for the past twenty years. From kindergarten through eighth-grade to private and extracurricular teaching, her means of educating is known to be out of the box and though provoking. Daniela’s personal artwork and portfolio can be viewed at www.danielabalzano.com

Crafter Ken Rowe was born and raised in Maine and still has the accent to prove it!  Ken currently lives in Connecticut, where he hawork wood focus webs been for the past forty+ years. By profession he was a manufacturing engineer since college, working mostly in the aerospace industry with a short tenure in the semiconductor field

Ken has worked with wood as a hobby for over fifty years.  For ten of those years he did whole house restorations.  Around 1992 he converted to making household objects from domestic and exotic woods. He has made shop furniture, house furniture, display tables, cabinets, tool chests, scroll saw puzzles, and elegant wood boxes from a combination of domestic and exotic woods, and turned bowls and vases.

Crafter Ken Rowe

In the beginning, most of the projects were for the household or were made as gifts for family

and friends.  He now also sells work at craft shows and on his website (www.KensWoodGifts.com). He has been getting a good response.

Later he decided to teach others woodworking skills in his shop, The Krowe’s Nest. “It’s been fun helping others make something they want out of wood and seeing the delight in their accomplishments,” quips Ken. Go to the Student Projects page on his website to see some samples of their work.

David Mills began his teaching career when (at age 20) he was asked to teach music to reform school boys in a summer program.  It was then that David realized music is first and foremost a form of communication, and even boys with no formal music training could pack a concert hall and bring down the house.  Although David has enjoyed success with “concert music” as well as “social music,” he decided to found DoSo Music to concentrate on the latter.  He began with DoSo Elementary and piloted programs for underserved children in New Haven, New York and Nashville.  In 2015 he formally launched the DoSo Dance Band, designed to bring together people of all ages and socio-economic circumstances.  In 2017 David was one of twelve music teachers in the country to receive a Jubilation Foundation Fellowship.

Environmental educator Celia LewisCelia Lewis has extensive experience in environmental education and conservation.

She loves the great outdoors and sharing outdoor experiences with people of all ages. Professionally, she has conducted biological inventories for the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and for the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and served as Assistant Head of Public Education at Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History.

She has a particular interest in the intersections between environment, energy use, and human health and is co-founder of Thimble Creek Research, which specializes in environmental health research. Celia received her MS from Bank Street College of Education and her PhD in Environmental Studies from Antioch University.

LucywMoon_Bluff_Head copyLucy Meigs is director & founder of Everyone Outside, a small nonprofit that prioritizes connecting people with nature.
An enthusiastic outdoor educator, Lucy has a Ph.D. in geology and has enjoyed formally and informally learning about local flora and fauna as long as she can remember.

Everyone Outside provides opportunities for people of all ages to spend time outside, learning about and appreciating their natural environment. The goal is to help people connect with the natural world on a level that promotes healthy living and environmental stewardship, based on the belief that a positive connection with nature is valuable not only for personal mental and physical health, but also critical for preservation of open spaces in local neighborhoods and beyond.

Alexa bioAlexa Fiszer continues her work as an Environmental Educator at Common Ground High School in many different community and children’s programs. She loves bringing exposure and appreciation to all that Common Ground has to offer!

Alexa has a lot of experience with students! She has been Program Director for a tutoring and mentoring group for middle school students through University of Connecticut Community Outreach. During her summers, she has worked at Kieve-Wavus Camps in Jefferson, Maine, planning and leading two-week outdoor wilderness trips for ages 8-13. Ever since, she has been hiking, camping, kayaking, canoeing, skiing, biking, crafting, woodworking, and learning whatever new skills she can!

Mindfulness instructor, Gail Bennett taught at the university level for ten years and then moved into the business world. While working in the business world, she taught and coached volleyball to a variety of age groups. After discovering meditation eight years ago, she wondered why she hadn’t been exposed to these tools as a young person.

Out of this inquiry, Gail developed a desire to share this experience with young people. Her search for an age-appropriate curriculum brought her to teach the .b [dot- be] course. She has a desire to reach young people without the means to afford this type of experience.

Gail lives and volunteers in Connecticut.

Partnering Organizations

CELC partners with many organizations and individuals, such as professional artists and environmental educators, who bring a wide array of expertise to students on a regular basis.  These connections are an integral part of CELC’s educational experience.

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“Life at CELC is unlike any other school. There is a place for any personality or learner. Through our everyday experiences we build relationships, and we become like a family. We go out into the world together. We work together and grow together. It is the best feeling to feel like you always have a place. You can just be you and find your place at CELC. It doesn’t matter what we are doing — hard and dedicated math, out in the woods, or walking the streets in Washington, D.C. – we always have a place to learn and have fun.”

Hannah, 8th-grade student at CELC