A friend of mine who taught eighth grade for years called adolescents "hormonally impaired." She meant this with love, respect, and understanding. She had one student, though, who presented even more challenges—he would forget his shoes but bring a snake to school. What if all of your students were "snake children" who needed special attention? One might find it challenging to teach an entire class of snake children in a regular run-of-the-mill classroom or school. You'd need something like the Beaver Island Lighthouse School, a residential high school on a sparsely populated island in Lake Michigan.
I was honored to attend the graduation/completion ceremony of the Beaver Island Lighthouse School, where some students graduated with a high school diploma and others completed YouthBuild (a work-experience program). Still other students completed the school's residential program without either of these other distinctions. My wife, Beth Urech, and I are supporters of the school. At the ceremony, we presented the first 10-10-10 Scholarship Fund Award and two books published by the Great Books Foundation. The award and books went to the valedictorian, Katie Daugherty, who will be attending Northwestern Michigan College.
The Beaver Island Lighthouse School is a residential high school for kids that are failing in their traditional schools. The twenty-five students and five teachers live together on the island for seventeen days before getting a four-day break. The students and teachers eat, sleep, work, and learn together. Life at the camplike school can be as much fun as a day at the beach or as challenging as life as a runaway teen. This extraordinary school is enough to make a difference for many of the students, but not for all. Even in this caring but intense school, there are dropouts among the snake children. Not all of them are ready to enter the world of adulthood. Most of the students make great progress and are like Taylor, who said to his Beaver Island teachers: "They told me I would never graduate. I did! You changed my life."
Mark Gillingham is vice president of technology at the the Great Books Foundation. He works to develop ways to use technology, information, and research to forward the mission of the Foundation.