District 16’s Lighthouse Program undergoes a growth spurt

A glimpse into Spring Lake Park District 16’s Lighthouse Program for the gifted student might find a 10-year-old studying the Farsi language or an 11- and 13-year-old arguing via the Internet about the mass of nano particles.

Ryan McGregor, left, and Jarod Pivovar, both 10 years old, study together at Spring Lake Park District 16’s Lighthouse Program for gifted students. Photos by Elyse Kaner

Ryan McGregor, left, and Jarod Pivovar, both 10 years old, study together at Spring Lake Park District 16’s Lighthouse Program for gifted students. Photos by Elyse Kaner

Either way the program, housed in the east wing of the Learning Alternatives Community School at the SLP High School complex, is taking off.

Now in its ninth year, the program has grown from its fledgling first-year enrollment of about nine (at one point the number plummeted to six) to 96, the latest count as of Dec. 10.

In an effort to boost enrollment, the Lighthouse held an open house during those first years.

“All of a sudden we jumped to 25,” said Bill Keilty, founder of the program and gifted coordinator. “Then it jumped to 50. And they were coming from all over the place.”

Lighthouse students draw locally and from as far as Waconia, Stillwater, Big Lake, Forest Lake and Maple Grove. One student lives in South Dakota. She stays in the Twin Cities during the week and travels home on weekends.

The program first started out serving 12- to 16-year-olds. It now serves students ages six to 18.

The faculty has grown from one teacher facilitator to four.

The program got its start in one 250-foot classroom in the high school. During the high school’s remodel a few year ago, the Lighthouse program was moved to Kenneth Hall for two years. The move set the program in two rooms, one room being the old library at the elementary school.

Madeline Lee, 15, has fun manipulating an image on a computer, while Kara “Isis” Pohl, 12, and Luke O’Leary, 10, look on. The three students are enrolled in District 16’s Lighthouse Program.

Madeline Lee, 15, has fun manipulating an image on a computer, while Kara “Isis” Pohl, 12, and Luke O’Leary, 10, look on. The three students are enrolled in District 16’s Lighthouse Program.

After the remodel, the program moved back to the SLP High School complex, the older section, where it now occupies the lower level of the Learning Alternatives Community School, a total of about 10 classrooms.

The program comprises students of multi ages who work together. Talk of grade-levels is, pretty much, not referred to. There is no set curriculum. Inquiry and the pursuit of unanswered questions is at the core of the program.

When parents and families visit the school to check out the program for the first time, Keilty explains up front “we don’t do it the way schools have always run.”

“We fit the curriculum to the kids,” Keilty said of one of the program’s goals to develop critical thinking skills.

In addition to his Lighthouse coordinator position, Keilty is an adjunct professor in the school of education at Hamline University in St. Paul.

The Lighthouse Program is funded from the general education budget through open enrollment. About 75 percent of the students in the program are part of Minnesota’s open enrollment program.

In the future, plans for the program include building and refining a blended model of online and on-location learning (started last year) to attract kids from across Minnesota, Keilty said.

For more information on the Lighthouse Program, visit www.springlakeparkschools.org, click on schools and specialty programs, or call 763-785-5531.

Elyse Kaner is at elyse.kaner@ecm-inc.com

up arrow