2017-08-26 / News

What It’s Like To Be A Laker: Student Life at Island School

By Cathryn Lien

It’s small and seemingly remote, three miles off the Upper Peninsula mainland, but the Mackinac Island Public School is at the center of a community that comes to life when the school year starts after Labor Day.

The ambitious pre-kindergarten through 12th grade school, with 67 students and nine teachers, supports arts and athletics programs to go along with the academic offerings. Home games of the Lakers are as big a draw here as are the home games at any mainland school.

Classes start September 5 on Mackinac Island and end in early- to mid-June, operating on semester schedule. The school calendar, however, has been busy since mid-August: a volleyball scrimmage with Rudyard and four matches with Whittemore Prescott and Paradise; four soccer games with Whittemore Prescott and Grand Marais; two cross-country meets with Whittemore Prescott and Engadine; a school board meeting, and a teachers’ in-service day at LaSalle High School in St. Ignace.

As at other schools, class is in session from 8:10 a.m. until 3:10 p.m. every weekday and students attend seven classes a day at 50 minutes each. The school breakfast program, a fixture at most schools since 1975, is substituted at the Island school with fresh fruit.

“Not enough students and parents want the program,” school secretary Barb Fisher said.

It was considered at the mostrecent school board meeting, as required, but no parents came forward to advocate for it, which Mrs. Fisher said has been the case for years.

“The breakfast program isn’t mandatory and it’s too costly,” she said. “We do place fruit bowls in every classroom for when students want a snack.”

The school cafeteria is also called the “small gym,” a room used for athletics before the school underwent renovations in 2000, when a fully equipped gymnasium was added to the northeast end of the building. A full-time cook serves hot lunch, and a salad bar is available.

Providing students with a hot meal and fresh produce is more costly on Mackinac Island than for other schools, as food must be imported from the mainland. All food comes to the Island by boat and is delivered by dray. It’s a $36,700 item in this year’s school budget of just over $1.8 million. The school has a partnership with Doud’s Market that holds down prices and protects food against spoilage or freezing in the transport process.

High school students are allowed off campus for lunch. Some go to Doud’s for a quick deli sandwich, or call ahead to order menu items from the Village Inn or Mustang Lounge, which stay open year-around.

Athletics are thriving at the school. Superintendent Bob Lohff said the school offers opportunities to be physically active not found at mainland schools.

“The kids cross-country ski, use snowshoes, go hiking, and even run up the staircase at Pontiac’s Trail for exercise,” Mr. Lohff said.

The school offers basketball, volleyball, soccer, track and field, golf, and cross-country running. Students in the 7th and 8th grades can play on varsity teams owing to the school’s small size. Friday night games are huge community events during the winter.

The sports calendar is the same as at mainland schools, although away games pose more of a challenge. Beaver Island School, the Lakers’ rival, will fly in for games and its athletes will sleep overnight in the lunch room, with mats provided by the school. Other rival teams come by airplane or ferry for Lakers’ home games.

Weather starts to cool off in October, but any Islander will tell you that snow is a good thing. The Island school never has snow days, but will occasionally have ice or cold days, depending on wind chill.

Without the need for a busing system, students come to school by bicycle in the fall. In winter, parents drop off little ones by sled. Students twelve years and older can get snowmobile licenses. They want the snow so they can ride to school on snowmobiles, and some say there’s never enough snow.

Art and music, taught by Heather May, are essential parts of the curriculum. Miss May wheels her art cart from class to class for painting and crafts. In the past, the school has partnered with the community to produce plays. Musically inclined students form a small band that puts on at least one program every year. Recently, ukuleles were purchased for each student involved in the band.

Academics are different for the Island school, but are not lacking in quality. Some classes are taught outdoors in Mackinac Island State Park for practical learning, and students will go on wildflower hunts. High school students are required to take a Mackinac Island History class, which covers the history of Father Marquette’s mission, Fort Mackinac’s role in the War of 1812, and the formation of the City of Mackinac Island.

The average number of students in a class is six. The elementary school is organized into two grades per class. In the fourth, fifth and sixth grades, two teachers split teaching duties. One teaches language arts and social studies classes while the other teaches mathematics and science classes.

Grades seven through twelve form the middle school and high school. Mrs. Fisher said the school operates on an “every other year” curriculum. For example, biology is taught in ninth and tenth grade one year, and the next year earth science will be taught in these grades. This system is the most efficient way for the school to function, although transfer students may find the transition difficult.

Makenna Horricks attended Mackinac Island Public School from kindergarten through fourth grade before her family moved to Harbor Springs. Her father, Jason Horricks, is the golf professional at Grand Hotel’s Jewel Golf Course and is moving the family back to Mackinac Island. This fall, Miss Horricks will be in the tenth grade and she said she’s excited to be back in the Island community.

“When I switched to Harbor Spring, I felt ahead of the other students,” she said. “The oneon one teaching at Mackinac Island Public School gave my teachers the chance to know my strengths and weaknesses and my learning style.”

Miss Horricks said that bigger was not better for her, in terms of schools. The friendships she made on Mackinac Island were stronger and fashion style is more individualized here, which she appreciates.

At her old school, advanced placement courses and dual enrollment were offered to upperclassmen. At Mackinac Island Public School, she has the opportunity to take AP courses, dual enrollment, and interactive/ virtual classes through the school’s iTV system.

Miss Horricks said that there is plenty to do on Mackinac Island between hammocking in the State Park and doing homework on picnic benches. She reads, hikes, and takes photos in the woods during her free time. One thing she loves about living on the Island is the freedom she has.

“My mom had to drive me to work and school,” she said, “but now I can explore anywhere I want and my mom doesn’t need to worry.”

Miss Horricks will turn 16 this fall but plans to wait to get her driver’s license until she is 18, as she won’t need it before that.

Gabe Kromer attended kindergarten at the Island school before his family moved to Carmel, Indiana. His family moved back to Mackinac Island when he was in eighth grade and ,this fall, he will enter his senior year.

He participates on the soccer, track and field, basketball, and soccer. He admits that he’s frustrated by the athletics because mainland schools are more competitive.

“There’s more diversity and talent in larger schools,” he said. “Here, there are no try-outs, and I’d like to be challenged more.”

Gabe successfully petitioned for the school to add cross-country to its athletic programs. He’s also involved with the Mackinac Island Community Foundation’s Youth Advisory Council, a student community outreach program.

A first day of school community picnic is an annual tradition on Mackinac Island. Classes are held in the morning and in the afternoon, the community is invited to share an outdoor picnic with students.

“The picnic is a great illustration of how involved the community is with the kids,” Mrs. Fisher said. “The school brings residents together.”

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