Schools That Work: The Leelanau School

Michigan's Leelanau School encourages its small student body to experience learning through their senses and hone important life skills.

Location: Glen Arbor, MI

Number of students: About 90 (from 15 states and eight countries); 1:6 teacher-to-student ratio

Curriculum & academic approach: A college-prep curriculum taught in a nontraditional way. Students with and without ADHD use their senses — eyes, ears, hands, voice — to process and understand the subject matter. The goal is to help students gain life skills, become self-reliant, and be ready for college.

“Something magical happens when your environmental science teacher is also your golf coach and the guy who takes you to the movies on Saturday,” says Rob Himburg, director of education at the Leelanau School. “The bond fosters trust, respect, and openness to learning.”

Strengths of the school: Determining how each student learns — through the use of academic testing, close observation by the teachers, and self-reporting by the student — and shaping the curriculum to fit his learning style.

Beyond academics: A mandatory after-school sports program gives students a chance to play soccer, basketball, or volleyball on teams, or to participate in individual sports. “Not every kid wants to play on a competitive basketball team, but if you give him a chance to go skiing every day, he’ll enjoy it,” says Himburg. Teacher tip: Teachers should always find ways to affirm students’ interests, personalities, and special abilities in the classroom. Is your student always drawing pictures of her friends and doodling in class? Allow her to classify species, in botany and zoology, by drawing plants and animals rather than by memorizing classifications.

Learn more: leelanau.org or call toll-free at 800-533-5262.

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