East Lyme high school program may move to elementary school

East Lyme - The school district administration is proposing moving the Coastal Connections work study program to Niantic Center School and will hold information sessions on the proposal Monday.

Coastal Connections is a high school program for about 25 students, modeled on "Big Picture Learning" schools in Rhode Island. The program, which has been running in East Lyme for two years, focuses on individualized learning and allows students three days of classroom instruction and two days of internships, Program Director Mike Sullivan said.

The program is located at 315 Flanders Road, on the second floor of the building that also houses the Carelot Children's Center.

Two factors are driving the proposed move to Niantic Center School, Superintendent James Lombardo said.

A new 18-to-21-year-old special education program that is also housed in the Carelot building will need additional space next year for eight to 10 more students.

In addition, he said, the district faces a $650,000 cut from its proposed budget during a year in which it is trying to develop all-day kindergarten. Moving the Coastal Connections program into vacant space in the Center School would save at least $10,000.

Lombardo said Coastal Connections students work in small groups based on their interests and intern in such workplaces as the district's elementary schools and local hospitals.

"It's been operating very successfully for two years," he said. The students at Coastal Connections are there because they want a more hands-on academic setting than the traditional classroom experience provides. They must apply for admission into the individualized program.

The administration proposal would bring Coastal Connections into a five-room suite on the east side of Center School's second floor, the district's only remaining available space, Lombardo said. The elementary and high school students would have separate entrances.

There will be information sessions for Niantic Center School parents and teachers Monday evening. Lombardo said the decision could come up for a vote at the next Board of Education meeting, but that decision would be based on Thursday's budget vote and the discussions Monday evening.

A parent expressed concern about the proposal at last Tuesday's board meeting. Another, Aileen Cahill, whose son attends second grade at Niantic Center School, said she had concerns about putting high school students in the same building as elementary school students. She said the proposal to bring the high school program to Center School has come up before.

"This was raised a few years ago, and there are many questions that remain unanswered from that time," she said.

"It needs to be a community discussion," she added, explaining that the decision should not be rushed.



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