The Small Schools Coalition is moving our Coping with COVID-19 series from coast-to-coast… by following up our article on The Grauer School in Encinitas, California with today’s spotlight on our friends at CELC Middle School in Branford, Connecticut.

CELC was founded in 2009 by educators Maria Mortali and Melinda Alcosser to provide instruction for students ages ten – fourteen. At CELC,  students are met where they are, and are challenged based on their own ability and skill level. At present, CELC serves nine students.

CELC students spend 1/3 of the their time in the classroom, and 2/3 of their time offsite for outdoor education and field experience. CELC students work with local partner organizations like Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven and Krowe’s Nest Studio in Durham.

CELC even engages its local homeschool community through programs like “Homeschool Mondays.” Other opportunities for “part-time” students include Geography Bee practice sessions, drama classes, and hiking.

Small in size yet lasting in impact, CELC prides itself on teaching children the value of being productive members of the local community and constructive citizens of the world. We are grateful to speak with co-founder Melinda Alcosser, M.S!

How has COVID-19 Impacted CELC’s Learning Community?

students having their temperatures checked at CELC middle school in branford Connecticut

Thank you so much for taking the time out of your hectic schedule to join us!

You’re very welcome… and thank you for giving CELC  Middle School the opportunity to share how our community is educating its children during the COVID-19 pandemic.

You helped found CELC in 2009. Since then you have assumed many roles. Can you tell us a bit about how the COVID-19 pandemic has altered your educative and administrative roles?

The COVID-19 pandemic has definitely added to the existing concerns schools of every size have for their students’ wellbeing. Here at CELC Middle School, my founding partner Maria Mortali and I have invested in enhanced safety measures and protocols to protect our students’ health and wellness.

One of our largest investments thus far, both literally and figuratively speaking, was in a 20′ x 30′ tent that serves as our outdoor classroom. We also continue to travel with students locally, as that is a fundamental part of our curricular method. To maintain student safety, we have adapted our extended trips by utilizing self-contained dwellings and other measures that provide extra layers of protection for students and faculty.

Wow. What fantastic ways to maintain your small school’s culture, while ensuring community wellbeing!

Merging CELC Middle School’s Culture with COVID Precautions

students in learning pods at CELC middle school in branford Connecticut

Let’s turn our attention more to the all-important subject of safety in the context of daily operations in a small school environment. What methods  has CELC put in place to ensure student safety?

We have adopted the standard measures like daily temperature checks, masks, social distancing and repetitive deep cleaning of all surfaces. We also have the outdoor classroom we can now use, and we also have invested in items like additional tables and individual learning pods. Additionally, we have removed couches and cleared meeting area spaces.

It sounds as though you have figured out what works for your students and faculty during this time, and are adapting on the fly. How are your faculty, students and parents adapting to these changes?

It is a work-in-progress for all of us, for sure! It is definitely a challenge to face each day with positivity and a smile… as we continue to need to be so mindful of everyone’s safety.

Being a small school, we naturally have an intimate relationship with our parents, and our community. This lack of manufactured institutional boundaries and hierarchies in the midst of a situation like the COVID pandemic is helping everyone cope.

But, we are still in the  midst of a global pandemic. Teachers, students and parents all must wear masks, maintain social distance indoors, and utilize hand-washing/sanitizing. To help ensure safety and comfort, we have invested in additional protective equipment including air purifiers, digital screening apps and remote cameras.

Well, you might be a small school… but the care and concern you’re demonstrating for your faculty, students and community-at-large is HUGE!

Benefits of Small Schools Like CELC During COVID-19

a classroom of students during the COVID pandemic at CELC middle school

We can’t thank you enough for the time you have taken out of your hectic schedule! Before we let you go, can you please share with our readers why you think small schools are better prepared than their larger counterparts to educate children, based on the societal conditions we may be living under for the foreseeable future?

Absolutely! Our experience shows that small school are better able to maintain positive educational cultures and deliver curricular strcture more effectively than their industrial couterparts

However, and I want to stress this, small does  not make anyone immune from COVID. As long as our little learning community stays safe from the vius, then all is well (of course).

The challnege is ensuring we keep it that way, as a small school also has the added challnege of intimacy to the point that, if an infection does occur, our entire community is at risk.

Hearing you state the risks alongside rewards in such raw, truthful terms is sobering. So then, how is life playing out for CELC Middle School at this very moment of our conversation? 

Well, I can best answer your question by sharing that we have  just returned from a week with our students in Maine. This is a traditonal pilgrammage that we (faculty and parents) felt was important enough to undertake despite the threat of COVID. Everyone tested negative for the virus prior to the trip. We traveled and lived together for a week on an island in Maine engaging in community and teambuidng actvities. No one has shown any signs of the virus since our return, and everyone had a fantastic time!

Wow. What a testament to the power and potential of “small” in education at a time in the world like this! On behalf of our friends everywhere, we thank you for your time.

Thank you for providing us with the platform to share our small school with the world-at-large!

How is Your Small School Coping With COVID-19?

Would you like to share how your school is coping with COVID-19 for the benefit of our friends, members and the educational commjunity at-large? If you are not a Small Schools Coalition member, join us totally free-of-charge.

If you are already a member, let’s get your school in the spotlight. Please stay safe inside and outside of the classroom!

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