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An Integrated Academic Approach

The academic core of the instruction is rigorous in content, diverse in its offerings, and adaptable to the needs and interests of the students. In keeping with the best practices for adolescent learners, considerable attention is given to connecting individual curricular areas to overarching themes. Students explore the essential questions that unite broad areas of knowledge, relate historical concepts and trends to current events and their own experiences, refine their research and writing skills, and have opportunities to work both independently and cooperatively. The traditional disciplines of Math, Science, U.S. History and Current Events, and Language Arts are integrated with, and enriched by, curriculum in the areas of Environmental Studies and Leadership Training, Peace Studies, Music, Art, Drama, Spanish, Cooking, and Service Learning.

In addition to reading about how an experiential education is integrated into the coursework, you can listen to CELC alumni and parents describe what an experiential education meant to them at our audio channel here.


Designed to encourage students to think mathematically and to consciously integrate “real world” math and math concepts into their lives. Students are grouped by ability level and able to work at their own pace. A variety of materials are used as a way to develop skills and apply them in real-life situations. The use of mental math, estimation, problem solving, computer technology, and the integration of subject areas occur throughout the curriculum. Students may take Algebra and then go on to Geometry in their ninth-grade year. A hands-on approach allows students to understand the concepts, rather than just memorize algorithms.

All students keep a math journal for writing about math, their thoughts, ideas, teacher and student questions, etc. All students use scientific and/or graphing calculators, and Internet-based activities, such as virtual manipulatives and web quests.


The science program is designed to integrate environmental/earth science, life science, physical science and chemistry. All students will keep a science journal that is used for assignments, as well as write about their ideas, questions, etc. having to do with science. The science program is hands-on and activity based. The skills that students will work on throughout the year include observation, group problem-solving, laboratory technique, measuring, inferring, communication, critical thinking, formulating questions and designing experiments to try to answer these questions.  Topics include Bubbleology, ecosystems and habitats, anthropology/archaeology, inventions, simple machines, and lots more.

History and Current Events

Students concentrate on the storytelling of American history. Beginning with European exploration of the Americas, students continue with a detailed consideration of English colonization of North America and the regional differences of the colonies. Students consider the excitement and determination of the colonists as they move toward revolution and experiment with self-government, paying particular attention to the unique structure of the Constitution. Time will be given for following the election process, utilizing printed material and the Internet.

We look at events and emphasize the people who had a hand in shaping them; we make a deliberate effort at realizing how events are linked and highlight the relevance of cause and effect. Students weigh the evidence from events to strengthen critical thinking and analysis.

Resources include America The People and the Dream published by Scott, Foresman, integrated heavily with A History of Us, written by Joy Hakim, along with primary source documents and political cartoons, when appropriate.

Students are exposed to the unique format of newspaper articles. They increase their understanding of timely events by reading local, regional, national, and international news. They develop skill in sharing and articulating what they have read in a group setting.

Language Arts

Integrates grammar skills with writing skills. Formal English classes focus on grammar development, structured writing skills, spelling, and vocabulary. The writing program is based on the Writers’ Workshop approach, for both the creative and expository aspects of writing.  A process of peer and teacher conferencing and self and teacher editing are utilized so students can expand and enlarge their writing abilities.  Through mini-lessons, writing time, and sharing aloud, students explore writing from the heart, while learning the significance of and ways to incorporate a variety of aspects of writing, such as setting; character development; plot versus theme; show versus tell; writing a good lead; using dialogue and more.  Students publish their work often in final, fully edited form and are encouraged to share their work in any way they can so that others can benefit. Students write fiction, non-fiction, poetry, letters, etc.    Their skills in the proper use of the English language are developed organically through their own work. Spelling lists are generated through all of the writing so that the students are working on words that are difficult for them.

The reading program is similar in some ways to the writing program. Students are given time to read books from our own library, from home, or from a local library. Through a journal correspondence with a teacher, the readers are directed to examine the author’s style so that they can become discriminating about what they read. Students are exposed to a variety of writing, including fiction; historical fiction; nonfiction; and poetry. Through this process, students read a great deal and discover their own interests and tastes in literature.

Literature Circle is a student-directed time dedicated to talking about a piece of literature with their peers. Younger students as well as the students who are new to this experience are placed in one group, while older more experienced students are placed in another literature circle.

A considerable part of the beginning of the year is spent modeling for the new students so they can understand and appreciate the variety of roles for which they will be responsible. Students are given the opportunity to experience the range of roles as the year proceeds. Some of the roles of a typical literature circle include a Discussion Director, who is responsible for pre-writing several thought-provoking questions, bringing them to the group for the purpose of generating a discussion.

We also include a role for a literary component (Literary Lieutenant), where a student chooses a part of the story to read aloud to the group. The idea is to help students remember some of the interesting, powerful, puzzling, or important aspects of the story.

Another role has a student thinking about connections (Connector Corporal) between the text and the outside world. The connection may be to the student’s own life, happenings in the community, similar events at other times and places, other books or stories, other writings of the same topic, or other writings by the same author.

Students (Character Captain) are asked to consider what is revealing about specific personality traits of the character(s) they are meeting. We look for examples in the reading of behaviors and / or actions that help the group members come to know the characters.

Another role is that of the artist (Artful Adventurer). Avenues of expression may include artwork in any medium, music, poetry, collage, mobile, or anything else that represents an aspect of what we are reading.

There is a role for the student who is on the lookout for vocabulary (Vocabulary Veteran) that is unfamiliar, interesting, repetitive, funny, descriptive, vivid, used in an unusual way.

There is a student in the role of summarizing the last reading as well as predicting what may happen in the next reading. We examine the evidence that led to the prediction and later confirm (or dispel) the thoughts.

Things are laid out in a slow, methodical way at first, and as students become more at ease, the creativity and joy of learning is evident.

Peace Studies / Community Service

As a Level One Certified Trainer in Kingian Nonviolence through the University of Rhode Island’s Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies under the direction of Dr. Bernard Lafayette, Melinda utilizes a curriculum based on the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King’s work during the Civil Rights Movement.  The curriculum outlines King’s six principles of nonviolence, which offer ways for people to understand conflict and be able to have tools to come to reconcile issues without use of emotional or physical violence. We are also associated with Connecticut Center for Nonviolence, whose mission is to build a world of mutual understanding among people where nonviolence processes are used to reconcile conflict and strengthen the quality of family and community life.

CELC has a continuing partnership with Branford’s Community Dining Room. Through food drives, preparing and delivering soup, and decorating the dining room for holidays and special events, students become aware of the importance of helping others in a direct and hands-on way.

Outdoor Education

Through the Outdoor Education Program students are encouraged to extend beyond their personal comfort levels in a challenging yet supportive environment. Hiking, backpacking, skiing, kayaking, and outdoor survival training provide active and engaging opportunities for the application of newfound skills and confidence. The program allows students to define and strengthen for themselves qualities of character and citizenship, ideals of practical and philosophical leadership, notions of responsible stewardship of the environment, and sound decision-making skills.  Program includes work with Bushy Hill Nature Center in Ivoryton, CT; Common Ground Environmental Center in New Haven, CT; Two Coyotes Wilderness School in Ansonia, CT; Yoga at Watering Pond Studio in Guilford, CT; Mount Southington Ski Area in Southington, CT; local area hiking, orienteering, as well as sports and games both outdoors and indoors at the Branford Community House gymnasium.

Artistic Endeavors

Faculty and guests artists bring their expertise to the students in areas of music, art, drama, and culinary arts. These programs are designed to broaden a student’s experience and are integrated into the academic subjects. Visual arts, world drumming, Brazilian Capoeira, stage productions and pottery are a few amongst the rich tapestry.

Explore the science of sound through music. Learn about instruments from percussion to woodwinds that then you will play. Build your own beach bottle banjos, flutes, drums and more. Learn to play music in a group through drumming, singing, and movement using instruments from around the world.

Visual arts incorporates a wide variety of media.  Painting, sculpting, and many aspects of drawing, including perspective, tone, and color blending, combined with free exploration of student’s ideas are all incorporated into this rich and exciting art experience.

One goal of the drama class is to have students think “outside the box” and create their own sense of reality.  Students play theater games, create improvisations, rehearse and present scenes as well as produce and perform dramatic pieces on stage.

Maria has a way of incorporating the chemistry, math, aerobics, and great fun of cooking during our Why Cook? class. Students learn the finer points of creating culinary masterpieces – whether it is an appetizer, dessert, entrée or side dish, students build valuable skills that provide them with the knowledge to be able to confidently navigate a recipe or invent a way to create a meal in any kitchen!

Topics in Experiential Learning

“Experiential education is a philosophy and methodology in which educators purposefully engage with learners in direct experience and focused reflection in order to increase knowledge, develop skills and clarify values.”  – Association of Experiential Education

CELC offers experientially-based teaching as a way for students to involve themselves in learning beyond the walls of a traditional classroom.  Learners are invited to participate in a strategically-designed format that integrates the student’s academic study with field experiences.

Each year a social studies-based theme encourages CELC students to immerse themselves in a focused study that primes for discovery and development of a new understanding. The following illustrate samples of theme topics:

Immigration: Quest for Freedom in America

Students begin by compiling a family “scrapbook”, documenting immigration stories of their own ancestry. The scrapbook becomes a document that includes aspects such as family traditions, clothing, religion, recipes, family tree, and much more. Students then study a particular country from where a mass immigration to the United States has occurred. They write a research paper about this country. For the final portion of this study, students develop a persona for an immigrant and design a “habitat” to illustrate the life of the character in an historic fictional context. Examples of field experiences that coincide with an immigration study may include visits to The Lower East Side Tenement Museum and “Nosh Tour” and a visit to Heifer International’s Overlook Farm.

Exploration and Discovery

Beginning with personal passions and understanding how nurturing one’s passion can lead someone to dreaming dreams and living with integrity to aspiring to one’s purpose – so that the work becomes the purpose – students are asked to think about their interests. What brings them joy? Toward which activities are they drawn? Field experiences are unique to the set of students at a given time – students share their own personal passions with the others in the class by organizing ideas, developing plans, and creating a way to allow others to experience what is meaningful to the student about his passion.

Students then study explorers of the world who have added to the map. From the ancients to the moderns, from celestial navigation to GPS, humans seek to explore the world around them.

To culminate our study students choose someone who has made a significant impact on the world, research this person, write a research paper, and ultimately “become” this person by creating a living museum to share in “real time” the life of the individual.


“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