Principal Karlene Bianco
As the graduates of the Lighthouse Life and Learning Center received their high school diplomas on May 20, Principal Karlene Bianco saw tears in many of their eyes. No adolescent nonchalance on this special occasion. "They knew they had to work for it, and they made it," she explained.
After 14 years of development, the school itself has made it, too. The Lighthouse has been fully accredited since last year and is now another high school in the Carbon School District. Though it is far smaller than Carbon High - enrollment is capped at 85 students - Ms. Bianco is convinced that her graduates are just as ready to go out and enter the world of work or continue on to college.
The reason for her confidence, she explained, is that teaching methods at the Lighthouse are "hands-on, project-based, and team-based." It is a style designed to match the needs of the students, who tend learn better from experiences than from books or lectures. "It's a misconception that this is a school for 'bad kids,' she stated. "This place is for students who feel lost in big classrooms, with 30 other kids in the same setting."
Apparently there are more than 85 students in the county who feel that way. The Lighthouse has a long waiting list of applicants.
There are ten teachers on the faculty. Average class size is 12 students, with a regular seven-period day. That's the right size for teachers to be able to show individual attention to each student and set the pace of instruction to accommodate, she explained. (In edu-speak this is called "differentiated instruction.") Lighthouse students travel to Carbon High for extracurricular activities or sports.
Ms. Bianco said her school is drawing inquiries from other districts in the state, who might want to implement similar programs.
However, they'd also have to duplicate Ms. Bianco's background. She spent nine years in social work with the Utah Division of Child and Family Services. As a result, she amassed a Rolodex full of contacts with social services providers, and those contacts enable the school to offer "wrap-around" solutions to problems that might interfere with learning. If a parent is unemployed, Lighthouse can steer them to Workforce Services and other agencies that can help people in temporary financial straits, for example.
Students at this school also work to support it. The school offers catering services to events in the county, so students have to get food handlers permits and pitch in to raise money. Ms. Bianco said a big chunk of those student-generated revenues go for funding field trips.
The school did not really begin as a school. It was organized and run by Steve May, who saw a need for a youth program in the county aside from school activities. From there it grew, adding new features and gaining additional support over the years, until it was adopted into the Carbon School District.