A 196-year-old stone tower rises from the rocky surface of Little Mark Island. In addition to the town of Harpswell, a Yarmouth nonprofit now hopes to acquire the island from the federal government. (Jerry Klepner photo)
The town of Harpswell has at least one rival in its bid to acquire Little Mark Island and Monument from the federal government. The Whilde School, a Yarmouth-based nonprofit whose founder lives on Orr’s Island, hopes to use the property as a “hands-on learning laboratory.”
Students “will be able to learn about lighthouse history, coastal ecology, and environmental stewardship,” the organization said in a Facebook post. “They will also be able to participate in a variety of outdoor activities.”
The word “Whilde” is an abbreviation of “whole child education.” The nonprofit’s website describes it as a homeschooling program that provides a personalized curriculum for each student.
Families join the school “for many reasons,” the site says. “For many, public or private school is not the best fit for their child.” Some want to homeschool their child, but cannot do it alone.
The organization uses a series of assessments “to establish which areas of the student’s mind and body need support with their skills and opportunities,” according to the site. With the information from these assessments, it creates a blueprint to guide the student’s education.
Jessica Molloy, headmaster and president of the board, established the school in 2012, according to the site. It was formerly known as Learning with Fun. Molloy lives on Orr’s Island with her husband and three daughters, all of whom attend The Whilde School.
The school operates an in-person program in a former manufacturing plant at 25 Yarmouth Crossing Drive, Yarmouth, along with a virtual program. It has more than 50 students altogether.
The federal government considers Little Mark Island and Monument excess property and is offering it at no cost to “eligible entities,” which include other federal government agencies; state and local governments; nonprofits; and other organizations that will use it for educational, recreational, cultural or historic preservation purposes.
The approximately 1-acre island lies in Harpswell waters, 1.3 miles southwest of Bailey Island. A historic lighthouse, no longer in operation, rises 50 feet above the island.
Eligible entities must submit a letter of interest to the U.S. General Services Administration by July 14. The National Park Service will respond with an application and provide an opportunity to inspect the property. The application is due within 90 days of the inspection. The Park Service will review applications and may recommend one applicant to receive the property.
The Harpswell Select Board voted June 8 to send its letter of interest. The Whilde School sent its letter on June 30.
“We are excited about the potential of Little Mark Island to provide our students with a unique and enriching educational experience,” Molloy, the founder, said in a statement. “We believe this island would be an ideal setting for our students to learn about the natural world and develop their environmental stewardship skills.”
If The Whilde School acquires the island, it will buy a boat and moor it on the Royal River in Yarmouth, Molloy said in an email. Many of the school’s families also own boats.
The federal government had the tower built in 1827 as a day beacon for mariners and a refuge for shipwreck victims, according to records from the National Register of Historic Places. A room at the base of the tower was outfitted with a wood stove and stocked with food and fuel. The government had a beacon light installed atop the tower in 1927.