After long run as Mooreland Hills, Berlin school gets fresh starts as Prism Academy for students with autism

Vacant since 2019 when it completed nearly nine decades as a private day school, the Mooreland Hills School in Berlin now has a new life as the Prism Academy for students with autism.

Nearly 20 youngsters ages 3 to 14 will be learning this fall at the school on Lincoln Street in the town’s Kensington section.


Prism, which operates centers in Farmington and Guilford for children age 6 and younger, began operating classes for 3- to 14-year-olds because of a unique demand, founder and Chief Executive Officer Rachael Coburn said at a ceremonial opening on Friday.

“When we began this school, it was from an urgent need in the pandemic. Children with autism aren’t able to access education through online learning, so we said ‘come to us,’ " Coburn said. “And as they say, we built this plane while we were flying it.”


The school started off in a couple of rooms in a different facility, but Coburn and her staff wanted a location better suited to the purpose. They learned the Mooreland School was available after shutting down in mid-2019.

Mooreland Hill and its 6.6-acre campus had served 89 years as a private day school, most recently serving kindergarteners to ninth-graders.

“We were immediately taken in by its charm, utility, location. Our affection for this school has grown every moment because of the neighbors, the community and the support we have here,” she told an audience of community leaders, Town Manager Arosha Jayawickrema, state Rep. Donna Veach and others.

“One of the things we experience as an approved private school is students whose needs haven’t been met in their public schools, so this is a continuum of services,” said John Molteni, clinical director at Prism Academy. “Our first goal is always to make sure students feel comfortable being here, that they want to be here, that they transition in the building well.”

Five Things You Need To Know

Five Things You Need To Know


We're providing the latest coronavirus coverage in Connecticut each weekday morning.

“Then we develop skills from there. There are lots of skills to work on: academics, communication, social and emotional development. We take a very individualized approach,” Molteni said.

Administrators hope to eventually serve as many as 50 youngsters. For now, Prism Academy has 19 registered; they come from 14 different Connecticut communities, all within an hour’s drive of Berlin, said Catherine Riker, education director.

“The classrooms are meant to be analogous to what students would see in a public school,” Molteni said. “Our goal is to develop skills that potentially allow those students to go back to their public schools.

“Our goal is not to keep kids here forever — it’s where kids can best be served at the time and then have them go back,” Molteni said.


Town Economic Development Chris Edge said helping to arrange a new use for Mooreland Hill was an especially rewarding accomplishment.

“As everyone knows this has been the home of a school for many years. The great news is it’s going to be a school again for many many more years,” Edge said.

“If you look around Connecticut, schools have a couple of different futures: They become apartments, they get knocked down, they sit there and nothing happens,” Edge said. “Because of the location and the history here, and because it is part of the neighborhood, there couldn’t be a better fit than the Prism Academy being here. They want to help families that literally could be right down the block.”