Elise Dardani and Christian Brownrigg are hoping to revolutionize secondary education in the Elm City from a two-room former vintage clothing store.

The Parker Cove School, which the two current high school teachers founded this year, is a private high school that hopes to change the way that students learn through experiential, project-based learning that avoids tests or grades. Dardani and Brownrigg, who have both worked as teachers in Connecticut public schools for over 15 years, held an open house at the new school building on Thursday to introduce people to the curriculum and speak with prospective parents about applications. They are aiming to open in the 2019–20 academic year with about 10 students enrolled.

“We have been seeing the things that do work in the schools where we are, but then also the constraints,” Brownrigg told the News. “We just have a lot of conversations imagining what would be more ideal, what would be some alternative.”

At the open house, Brownrigg said that she and Dardani were inspired by the holistic approach to education in early childhood and wanted to emulate that in a high school environment. She said that in high school, methods of learning become more narrowly focused, and they wanted to create an educational experience that was “more fulfilling and nourishing.”

Although no prospective parents attended the open house, current teachers and community members who attended said that they enjoyed the open and collaborative environment.

Susan Frew, who owns the building and previously ran the vintage shop, said that she is excited about the potential of the school.

“I am supportive of alternative education,” she told the News. “I would like to think that I am part of the solution.”

The Parker Cove School is a for-profit institution, which Brownrigg told the News was an easier initial status for the school because it enables more flexibility in finances. But she added that they are “mission driven” and have a leadership structure that is more similar to a nonprofit.They expect to apply for nonprofit status once they are more established.

The tuition for the school will be $42,200 per year, about $1,000 less than the $43,500 tuition for the Hopkins School, a 350-year-old renowned private day school in New Haven. Brownrigg said that they aimed to make their tuition price comparable to other private schools in the area, despite being a new school. Parker Cove began accepting applications in October, and their primary application deadline in January. The school has not received any applications yet.

During the event, Dardani also discussed the ways that Parker Cove would aim to address the wellness needs of students, including starting at 9 a.m. instead of 8 a.m. and incorporating an hour of fitness into the schedule every day.

Dardani emphasized the personalized method of teaching in the curriculum in a presentation at the open house. On the chalkboard wall of the main room, Dardani wrote the question, “How can education support happiness and fulfillment?” The academic schedule of Parker Cove is structured into four interdisciplinary units that use larger questions to explore subjects like science, math, history and literature. Students will also design and complete a project of their choosing over the course of the semester or year.

Dardani told attendees that they wanted them to know what is is like to study at Parker Cove day to day. Those who attended the event participated in small activities in different subjects around the central theme of creativity, which included building towers and discussing pieces of art.

Brownrigg added that the goal of Parker Cove is not to draw resources away from public education.

“We need a well-funded public education system, and we are not interested in detracting from that system at all,” she said. “As educators, we just want to do something and contribute in some way other than how we have been contributing as teachers. In order to do something as innovative as we are imagining, we need to be independent.”

David Weinreb, a teacher at the Fair Haven School who has implemented several project-based learning practices in his classes, told the News that there are many places in public school environments where the curriculum does revolve around students’ interests and needs. He said that in many high school spaces in New Haven, educators are able to prioritize students.

However, Weinreb said that he would be interested in the concept of Parker Cove if it could expand to include students of many backgrounds.

“All New Haven public school students deserve the opportunity to work in small groups and focus on problems that matter to them and think critically about issues that affect their community,” he said. “If the school is prepared to put together a bunch of expert knowledge to put together a curricular plan and they are excited to fundraise thousands of dollars to allow students like my bilingual newcomers to benefit from their hard work, then I am interested in what that could mean for New Haven.”

The Parker Cove School is located at 938 State St.

Carolyn Sacco | carolyn.sacco@yale.edu@yale.edu