Listen to CELC parents and alumni talk about why they chose CELC and how they feel they benefitted from an experiential education:

See what people are saying about CELC

CELC is an amazing middle school.

I cannot say enough good things about CELC. With a small class size, challenging academics and the numerous “hands on” field experiences, my son is receiving a top notch education that I only wish I’d had at his age. The students are encouraged to be self-motivated and to think for themselves (rather than waiting for a teacher to hand them an answer to memorize). The dynamic, thoughtful, and engaging CELC co-founder teachers (M&M) foster an environment of respect, strong sense of community, and a desire to learn because learning actually can be fun. M&M are experts in understanding the many facets of a middle school student’s academic, social, and emotional growth. And because of their extensive experience teaching students in this age range, M&M are uniquely qualified to tailor the CELC program to an individual child’s interests and abilities.

While the traditional subjects are certainly taught, what truly sets CELC apart from other independent schools is the experiential component of the program. Whether it is a field experience led by M&M or one of their adjunct instructors, the CELC student learns by doing several times per week.  Hiking, museums, planetarium visits, Long Wharf play productions, woodworking, various art instructions, team building exercises, visits to an organic farm, distinguished author guest speakers, science experiments and on and on … the CELC student does not sit idly by being lectured all day.  Instead, the CELC student is literally an active participant in the learning process with field experiences directly linking back to the overall yearly school theme. And the results? The students love the program. When I pick up my son from school, I see first hand the enthusiasm all the students have for their school. I would highly recommend CELC for a unique middle school experience.

S.M., parent of CELC student

Two more years.

We have been with CELC for two years, and we will do two more because the teachers care, provide an enriching, high-level education and because our son really enjoys his school …that makes all the difference to us. I am not only his mother, but also a CT-certified educator with fourteen years spent teaching elementary and middle school in Norwalk CT. We now reside on the Shoreline and are so happy to have found CELC!

C.R., parent of CELC student

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.

H.S., 8th-grade student at CELC

Excellent program.

The individual attention is amazing. My child learned so much and is now quite independent. Looking forward to another year!

P.F., Parent of CELC student

Connecticut Experiential Learning Center (CELC), literally, takes my breath away.

The opportunity for the students at CELC is amazing, and the dynamics of the group of students is absolutely beautiful. CELC is what, I believe, parents would want for their child: a bully free and truly challenging (individually titrated, another miracle for a school) learning environment. Melinda Alcosser and Maria Mortali are the two exceptional forces that lead the learning process at CELC: for kids in grades 5th through 8th.

Why CELC for my family?  Coming from a fantastic public school in Shaker Heights, Ohio (Onaway elementary school), we moved to the shoreline of Connecticut into a school system with high ratings. The bullying was so unexpected and frightening.  Worse, my child was “viewed” as the problem. We moved him to a private school (in the same community) and found the same dynamic continued to occur in this private school. He continued to be bullied, and he fell through the cracks with regard to academics. My husband and I had a difficult time getting him to do his homework, and as a result, teachers disregarded his abilities and did not challenge him. We moved him to CELC in March of 2012. The second week he was there, on the way home he said, unprompted, “I love being there. It is like something was missing in my heart before, and now I am complete.” Since moving to Connecticut two years ago, my son is finally happy. He loves going out the door in the morning to CELC, and he comes home at night and completes his homework!!!!! It is only believable because I have seen it happen for my son.

At CELC, he is not only accepted for who he is, he is valued. He is challenged. He is doing his homework. He is finally happy. This makes my husband and me happy. Connecticut Experiential Learning Center takes my breath away. A truly miraculous school program on the Connecticut shoreline.

C.F., parent of CELC student

Two of the most committed teachers I have ever met.

Willing to work with each student and family individually while also prioritizing community. Academics are both intellectually rigorous and balanced with real-life experiences and kid- friendly activity. A very good value, as well, as far as private education. A truly drug-free, bully-free place to experience the transition to adolescence, which is a miracle!

B.M., parent of CELC  student

What impact CELC has had on my child, family and myself:

As an adult, I realize that learning never ends; it begins, grows, changes, is reinvented, matures and changes again. It is a journey through life. Many projects that pull us together as a family turn out to be the truest learning experiences and the best home-school connection.

I believe that a child learns by becoming engaged with experiences and that ignites the desire to learn in depth.  This is without a doubt what CELC has inspired within my daughter.

Many of us can memorize facts and concepts with regards to educational material. It is what we do with the material that develops the understanding, making choices using that understanding and ultimately recycling all that acquired knowledge to form new thoughts, ideas and structure to live a productive life – a deeper understanding and a higher level thinking through real and authentic life experiences.

The most important job that a school has is getting students interested in learning concepts and then transforming it into their lives. It is not performing on a test; it is living, using that gained knowledge to achieve a high quality of mature life and being our best selves.

My daughter has gained in her ability to use what she has learned in classes and fieldwork to perform in life. From her tasks at Rob’s ranch, the abbey, interacting with artisans in the area, moving from classroom to environment ….and ultimately going on a sailing adventure of which she had no prior knowledge to perform with accuracy and maturity. That ability to enter into a new experience and bring with her everything she has learned at CELC is a testament to the school’s philosophy. They also learn how teamwork affects the totality of accomplishing a task. With all of these experiences, she acquired new knowledge of math, science, literacy, history – all concept areas in a manner that was inviting and inspiring.

Getting the information is easy, applying it shows true knowledge. Being in the atmosphere while you are doing a task creates better understanding of the task and develops new inquiry.

Close interaction in middle school, non-judgmental, creative imaginations, and relationship building at its finest is what CELC is all about.

N.D., parent of a recent CELC alumna

Our son was losing his self-confidence, self-esteem and in fact, his entire sense of “self” at his public school.

CELC has provided an incredibly healthy and nourishing academic environment that has challenged him in a variety of ways and helped him grow significantly as a person and a student.

E.B., parent of a recent CELC alumnus

My son has been fortunate enough to spend the past three years with M & M, as Maria and Melinda are fondly called.

Henry attended public schools prior to attending CELC.  By February of 5th grade, he was checking out – he had lost his intellectual curiosity, thought he was stupid, and had lost much of his self-confidence.  Many mornings were a struggle to get him to school.  He complained of stomachaches and headaches. If a major change wasn’t made, we were looking at a child at risk for drugs and alcohol problems, as well as not being able to withstand peer pressure in his teenage years.  I also remember the “junior high” years (as they were called back then) as being difficult years.  The kids could be so judgmental and cruel.  It wasn’t cool to be smart or have interests outside of the “norm”.  I wanted my son to be in a smaller environment where a strong sense of community and teamwork would be formed with the other students.  I also wanted him to rediscover a strong sense of self and have the freedom to explore a wide variety of things to see what really interested him.  To not limit his explorations out of concern for what his peers might think.

Because Henry had such strong verbal skills and was a “good kid”, it took a full six months each year in public school for a new teacher to figure out that there was a large disconnect between what Henry had learned and what he was able to output in writing.  In a small environment with the same teachers for three years, M&M learned Henry’s strengths & weaknesses, avoidance techniques, and motivations.  There was no place for him to hide.  There was accountability every day.  The lessons were customized to his speed, abilities, and interests.

Henry has soared under M&M’s tutelage.  He is confident.  He now has excellent study skills.  He understands the amount of effort he puts in will be rewarded.  He is self-motivating.  He wants to do well and learn.  He is proud of his accomplishments.  He was pushed out of his comfort zone and gained self-confidence.  He is extremely ready to enter high school in a public school setting.

Each year at CELC there is an over-arching theme:  ancient civilizations, immigration, and explorers & people with passions.  Theme culminates in a research paper, creating a living museum (think setting up a trade show booth), and several visual displays.  The first year Henry chose to study Harry Houdini.  Henry’s notecards only had one word on each of them.  He dictated his research paper to me while I typed it.   I had zero involvement in Henry’s third theme paper – he drew up an outline, researched, wrote notecards, typed and proofed his paper by himself.

The experiential learning opportunities have been diverse and wide ranging:  conducting a point-count study with an ornithologist, iron working with a convent of nuns, kayaking, working with an architect to design and build for the Connecticut Food Bank’s CANstruction, living in a replica of a developing country at Heifer International’s Global Village, sailing for a week on a 46-foot ketch in Chesapeake Bay, volunteering at the Community Dining Room, drama lessons at Long Wharf Theater, splitting wood on a farm, growing a worm farm, volunteering for an Hispanic elders’ community, and the list could go on & on!

Henry  was challenged academically and personally.  His self-esteem is high and he knows how to be a fully engaged citizen of the world.

L.W. , parent of a recent CELC alumnus

Dear Melinda and Maria,

I attended your theme day at Branford’s Blackstone Library this spring, which was like a living museum or theater experience! I was extremely impressed by how confident and focused the students were. They had done a lot of research, and they all seemed very interested in the people they had chosen to study. By having to dress up and “become” the characters that they had researched, they were able to develop some acting skills and people skills as they explained who they were and what they had done in history. They also had great costumes, props and displays, which made it clear how much hard work had gone into preparing for this day. They shared lots of information while also keeping a sense of humor. I can understand why they are so comfortable when I remember the first time I visited the school. Everyone was friendly and welcomed me into the community, even putting the school puppy on my lap. It is a rare gift for adolescents to have a supportive community that allows them to find and develop their unique gifts at this age. You give your hearts and souls, as well as your minds, to this program, and it will be an honor to learn more about how you do what you do as I offer more art workshops for the kids. I wish that more 5th through 8th graders could have this experience …  I also attended at talk at Madison’s Scranton Library that you sponsored on learning to talk with and understand teenagers given by a psychologist for parents and teachers. It was a terrific program with a thoughtful discussion afterwards. Thanks, Linda

L.M., Teaching artist / Friend of CELC

Snow Day or Go Day?

When I was a kid I cherished the very few days that it snowed enough to cancel school. Come on – a chance to go sledding at the golf course or skating at the pond behind the school. Who wouldn’t choose that over sitting in a classroom all day?

Truth be told, even as a teacher for lo those many years at Wightwood, and as much as I loved teaching, hearing the phone ring at 5AM and being told that we were getting a well deserved break from school was a pleasant experience. Back to sleep.

So what’s up with the CELCers? Last Friday almost every school in the state was closed – certainly all the ones in our district. Did that phase M&M and their loyal troops? Not a chance. We had a day planned on our property that included tending our maple sugaring evaporator, making seed pots for tomatoes and herbs, and making some homemade ice cream. One might say that the day was designed for “fun.” And at some level, one would be correct. That is the beauty of this program. Real life experiences and education should be designed to be fun. Not all the time, but certainly on a regular basis.

You have to look closely and listen to see all that’s going on during these “classes.” Science, math (metric and U.S. customary, of course), social studies, physics, culinary skills, physical labor, and yes, FUN! It’s a beautiful thing to observe and be part of.

So here they come, stomping up our driveway, snow and wind in their faces, supplies in hand, smiles on their faces, positive attitudes, ready to get busy, cooperate, learn, experiment, take risks, be challenged, support each other, problem solve, and yes, have FUN! And they did all of it. Never heard a complaint or a word that their buddies were home, relaxing or playing in the snow, or, I’m sorry to say, spending hours in front of a computer screen, cell phone, or Blackberry (or is it a Raspberry?).

These kids are active, always on the move, doing and learning. Never a frown. M&M have designed and are implementing a “real school” in the best sense of the word. Sally and I can’t wait to see them again. Not just to observe it but to be part of it. It’s even better than a snow day, light years better.

R.C.W. , colleague and friend

Feels Great to Call Myself a CELC Alum!

I am missing you both immensely, especially in the mornings with your special greetings that always woke me up. I am greatly appreciative to you, Melinda and Maria, because you two prepared me for high school. I feel like without your guidance and support throughout my two years at CELC, I would not be where I am in life right now. I’m not trying to be an advertiser, but this message is no lie! When I say, “I would not be where I am today,” I mean it; even to my surprise, for my first semester of my freshman year of high school, I managed to get all A’s!

N.B. , CELC alumna

If CELC could use another digitized face in the classroom, I’d be happy to help during the break!

It’s been one year since I left Connecticut, and I’m already finishing my first semester at Point Loma! Classes have gone well, and I’m starting to feel at home in California.  I definitely appreciate not scraping frost off my windows.

I just finished a research project for my argumentation class. I want to say that CELC prepared me for research assignments more than my former high school. The strategies you teach are the same that my professor teaches. I just think it’s remarkable that most high schools barely cover the basics of GOOD research, whereas CELC dedicates almost half a year to learning such skills. 

J.V.F. , CELC alumnus

You saved her and in turn you saved our whole family!

We think of you often. Our daughter mentions you almost daily. She recognizes that she may not have appreciated CELC as much as she should have, and she is having a successful virtual 8th- grade year [at her new school] due to all of your work! 

B.R. , parent of a recent CELC alumna


“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