Which middle school spends a week in Vermont to have regular classes, tour the area, visit museums, and ski? Connecticut Experiential Learning Center (CELC) Middle School of Branford. Why is this type of programming a regular component of a CELC education?

CT Experiential Learning Center Middle School Vermont

CELC’s curriculum is designed to provide opportunities for students to stretch, grow, and as stated in the mission of this school, “nurture their highest potential”.

When Maria and Melinda, co-founders and primary educators at CELC, were presented with the generous offer to spend a week in Vermont at one of the student’s family homes in Ludlow, they welcomed the idea. After polling parents, the decision was made and a week in Vermont for CELC Middle School became reality.

The week was varied and included a visit and tour of Hildene Farm in Manchester, VT, the summer home of Robert Todd Lincoln, son of President Lincoln and Mary Todd Lincoln. In addition to a guided tour of the homestead and museum, students went aboard a fully restored Gilded Age Pullman railroad car (Mr. Robert Lincoln was president of the Pullman Company) and learned about the freed slaves who were once porters on these trains.

CELCers spent an afternoon at Billings Farm in Woodstock, VT, a working dairy farm that offers workshops and classes exploring Vermont’s rural history. Students learned about the animals and the farm, made rope as was done in the 1700s, churned butter, had an old-fashioned sleigh ride, and took part in a hands-on activity about Westward Expansion.

Students shared responsibilities at the River House, our home away from home. Each meal was planned, prepped, completed by students, and heartily enjoyed by staff and students alike, all while sitting for meal together at a large dining table. During a couple of the days as the snow fell outside, we held classes.   Students worked on haiku and free verse poetry and took part in regular Literature Circle class. For math class, students worked in collaborative groups that were given the challenge to measure the square footage and square meters of the entire house! They ultimately divided and conquered, each group taking a different floor, as they figured out how to compensate for oddly shaped areas and then disseminated the information in a group meeting. Writing class was ongoing, journaling about their travels and moments of discovery.

As we were located downtown Ludlow, Okemo Mountain became our classroom for Thursday and Friday. For some students, this would be their first time skiing. It was not easy, and while fear was present for some, all ultimately found their brave through the support of the group, a deep sense of trust in CELC’s personalized and emblematic approach. All students took lessons with the highly qualified Okemo instructors. Much planning (thank you, Maria, our resident ski guru) went into matching each student with the appropriate class, based on individual level of snow ski experience.

Just like in all of CELC’s classes, differentiation happens – it is not just a buzz word! More experienced skiers were ready for a new challenge on the slopes and worked with instructors who certainly provided. And the beginning first-time skiers started at the beginning! By lunchtime, after working through some anxiety over how to handle a chair lift, all of these students progressed and by our second and final day, the entire group enjoyed chocolate-covered waffles at the Waffle Cabin, located halfway up the mountain!

The pride and confidence that this gave to these students was palpable. Here are comments from parents:

Hi M & M, I wanted to thank you for taking such great care of Sophie and to let you know that she had a fabulous time while in Vermont.  She was very chatty about all of her Vermont adventures. Charles is especially thankful that you were able to turn Sophie into a skier!  This experience has made Sophie very excited to travel to Guatemala.

                                       – S.A., parent of 2nd year CELC student


Hi Melinda & Maria, I just wanted to let you know that Cade has been bouncing off the walls since we picked him up from the trip.  He is so happy to have learned to ski and overcome his fear.  He has described his experience blow by blow and of course, now he admits that his parents were right along when we told him he was building up skiing in to something bigger and harder than it actually is. He seems so proud of himself.  He is saying that he has triumphed over skiing.  He is even talking about going again, which is great news to Ray who has not skied in a long time and would like to go with him. So, thank you, thank you for this enriching experience.  It has changed Cade for the better!

                                                            – S.M., parent of 2nd year CELC student


So, why do middle school this way? Now that the students are back in our Branford headquarters, there is a noticeable difference and sense of bonding that has occurred, deeper than before, from living away from home, with one another in new surroundings, having to become independent, taking care of oneself and also being part of a working unit and close-knit group. Offering young people ways to experience and discover themselves in relationship with others and the world is the CELC way.

Every week at CELC offers rich and in-depth learning and a balance of consistency in approach with varied and new experiences; and we keep right on. The significance and impact of a CELC education is evident from current students and from those who have graduated the program over the years. CELC students develop a real love for learning, appreciate a sense of adventure, become capable thinkers and resilient people. Whether in a grammar class in Branford or skiing at Okemo, authentic learning happens, everywhere!

Thinking about middle school for your child? Attend an upcoming informational meeting or schedule a visit to find out more about CELC Middle School.  Contact [email protected] or call 203.433.4658, and online at www.CTExperiential.org