Experiential Learning has always been at the heart of a Leelanau School education. Leelanau teachers are constantly looking for ways to purposefully engage with learners in direct experience and focused reflection in order to increase knowledge, develop skills, clarify values, and develop people’s capacity to contribute to their communities, which is how the Association of Experiential Education describes the philosophy.

Recently Leelanau School students were given the unique opportunity to participate in a true multi-disciplinary experiential learning opportunity in collaboration with the Michigan Legacy Art Park at Crystal Mountain Resort. The event was actually directed by Leelanau’s own visual art instructor Kaz McCue, who also happens to be the Artistic Director of the Art Park. Kaz (as we lovingly refer to him) invited Marquette metal artist, Theresa Smith,  the Artist-in-Residence for the Michigan Legacy Art Park, who has 22 years of experience with iron work, community projects, and art programs, to visit Leelanau and to introduce the students to the project and initiate the discussion.

As part of the creative process of creating a cast iron sculpture, scratch blocks were created where each student scratched designs into templates which were later poured with molten iron. One of our school values, “Stewardship” was particularly emphasized as students worked with donations of old radiators to break down for melting. This hands-on opportunity was the first step in the process of seeing junk transformed into art.  The concept of recycle and re-use is one familiar to Leelanau students, but this project was a new experience.

Students brought the novel project back to the classroom by choosing to focus their academic work on the following educational modules relative to this project: “Iron Ages: A History of Iron in Michigan and Beyond “ (history) taught by Joe and Elizabeth Blondia, “Having a Melt Down: An Exploration of Melting Points” (science) taught by Jay Meyers and Cris Pina,  “Testing Your Metal: An Investigation of Metallurgy” (science) taught by Bruce Hood and Cris Pina, and “A Write to Own: Workshop a Creative Poem or Analyze the Mixed Self” (creative writing) taught by Tanya Firestone and Kim Speicher.

Finally, the process concluded with a trip to the Art Park at Crystal Mountain to spectate at the Iron Pour, where the iron was heated in a special furnace to 3,000 degrees and poured into molds. Following the pour, Leelanau students also got to tour the park, which features 50 outdoor sculptures and two miles of wooded hiking trails. 

Read more about the Iron Pour at The Record Eagle.

Exploratory Trips 2017

Every fall when Leelanau School students arrive on campus for a new school year things start a little differently.

Rather than jumping right into academics, our students set off on outdoor adventures we call Exploratory Trips  – a kick off to the upcoming year of Experiential Learning. These trips set the tone for what life at Leelanau will be like and allow students new and old to “experience” something together; something that will be built upon in the coming months and years.   

Two of the themes that begin with Exploratory Trips and continue throughout the school year are “Council” and school values. We believe in the development of the whole person, not just a student’s academic skills, and as such, students participate in a tradition known as Council, which is a way to communicate, connect, and learn about one’s self, each other, and their place in the world. Additionally, during Exploratory Trips, students are introduced to Leelanau School values and become familiar with the norms and expectations of our community.

Community Core Values

Resilience    Awareness    Courage    Leadership    Stewardship    Integrity    Interconnectedness

This year each class participated in these amazing experiences:

Freshmen: Explore Yourself within The Leelanau School Community

Freshmen were  introduced to Council during their Exploratory Trip which was to the Leelanau Outdoor Center (LOC). There they spent three days and two nights learning about each other and becoming familiar with the outdoor environment. The first night was spent in a cabin and the second night was spent tent camping. The LOC staff worked with faculty and students doing group initiatives, including a ropes course, and provided camping gear and tips on how to use it. The ninth grade faculty Council team was present at all times to help the students pack for the trip, provide support and encouragement, learn about each student as an individual, and provide supervision and support overnight.

Sophomores: Venture Forth into the Community: Leadership, Stewardship, Integrity.

Sophomores also spent their

 Exploratory Trip at LOC and had a similar experience as the Freshmen. Some of the skills that our tenth graders worked to develop included thinking beyond one’s self, taking healthy risks, collaboration, and courage. Returning students lead discussions with new sophomores regarding ”doing Council”.

Juniors: Quest for Independence and Responsibility

Juniors set off on their trip to the Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area, where they spent three days and two nights hiking, canoeing, and camping along the dunes. Staff from LOC joined our faculty in working with the students doing group initiatives. The eleventh grade faculty Council team was present at all times to help the students pack for the trip, provide support and encouragement, learn about each student as an individual, and provide supervision and support overnight. Some of the skills the eleventh graders worked to develop included understanding and demonstrating one’s personal gift to the community, conscious awareness of self, and the development of leadership.

Seniors: A Time for Introspection


Seniors traveled to Leland and then boarded a ferry to South Manitou Island for their final Exploratory Trip. Once on the island they carried all of their gear and supplies in packs to their camping area where they spent three days and two nights. The twelfth grade Council team was present at all times to help the students pack for the trip, provide support and encouragement, learn about each student as an individual, and provide supervision and support overnight. The twelfth graders worked to ripen their awareness of self, make informed decisions, and realize individual potential and place within the community.





We are excited to announce that two alumni, one from the 80’s and one from the 90’s will be back on campus to share their perspective and wisdom with our seniors and community.  On Thursday, June 1, Meagan Darlington from the class of 1990 will be the featured speaker to the senior class at their traditional breakfast.  The senior breakfast is their first glance at the world as our newest Leelanau School alumni.  They will hear about our expectations for maintaining close ties to the alumni office and especially each other, and taking opportunities to give and be of service to The Leelanau School.  Meagan returns as our one of our two newest Board of Trustee’s members.  She attended her first board meeting in May and has already added much to discussions in marketing and branding as a manager in these areas for Adobe, Microsoft and Google.  We are excited to have her return to talk to our students in an intimate breakfast format.  Area alumni are welcome to the breakfast.  Please contact Julie at 231-334-5827 if you plan to attend so we can have enough seating and food prepared.

On Graduation, Saturday at 11:00 a.m. we will hear from Leelanau School alumnus, Arya Khoshnegah, class of 1981.  He will be sharing his experience as an incoming student directly from Iran during his country’s political unrest.  He will share his views on how Leelanau School provided him and his sister a “home- away-from-home,” and prepared him for a successful life in the United States.   The public is welcome to attend Graduation – no RSVP’s are needed.

This year, we will graduate 19 wonderful seniors.  They represent the following states:

Michigan (7) Illinois (3) and one each from Ohio, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, New York, Connecticut, Florida, Colorado and California.



Come Visit …

Houseparent Spencer Seaman snapped this gorgeous picture at sunset last evening on April 13, 2017 at The Lanphier Observatory at The Leelanau School.This hidden treasure is something you want to put on your “must do” summer list.  Click on the link and then scroll down the page to read a wonderful article in the Glen Arbor Sun last year about the Observatory.

July 5, 2016 “Lanphier Observatory celebrates 40 summers of public stargazing”


The holidays were extended for The Leelanau School thanks to our neighbors to the northeast at The Homestead.  Yesterday, we received word that The Homestead was upgrading and renovating their conference areas, and as a result had a wonderful array of gently used items that they were kind enough to donate to The Leelanau School.
“They sent photos and detailed descriptions of all the items and it quickly became obvious that the chairs and whiteboards in particular would be put to very good use at our school,” said JD Friley, Head of The Leelanau School.
The items were ready to go by the next morning and Leelanau students and staff loaded them into trucks and unloaded them in our Learning Commons and in our Karman Activity Center.
It didn’t take long for the students to find them and give them the big thumbs up. The dark brown chairs are perfect in our Learning Commons, because they allow us to rearrange the space quickly and gather in circles, around desks and in quiet study areas.  Plus, the color and texture will hide dirt!  The chairs they are replacing are decades old, and have been repaired numerous times.
The lighter chairs will be used in the Karman Activity Center which is used as a class room, meeting room and casual gathering space. They will be functional, comfortable and much more attractive than what we were using.
“We are so very grateful that The Homestead donated these great items to us! What a wonderful way to start the New Year!” Friley said.