The Whilde School in Yarmouth hopes to acquire Little Mark Island off Harpswell to use as an outdoor learning laboratory. File photo / Portland Press Herald

A small school for neurodivergent students in Yarmouth has applied for ownership of Little Mark Island off Harpswell to use as a site for hands-on science instruction and other activities.

“We can use it for science, and we’re really big on being outside and helping the environment,” said Jessica Molloy, founder and headmaster of the Whilde School. “We can do so many different things out there, whether it’s aquaculture or gardening.”

Jessica Molloy founded the Whilde School to give students an opportunity to learn differently, she said. Contributed / Jessica Molloy

Molloy has submitted an application to the U.S. General Services Administration for the 1-acre island in Casco Bay that is home to a deactivated 50-foot, beacon-topped granite monument. The lighthouse is one of six being given away by this year to nonprofits, education organizations, government entities or other groups. Under the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act, the federal government has offered up unnecessary lighthouses for free since 2000. Winning applicants pay only for maintenance and taxes.

Although Little Mark Island has a rocky shore with no pier, the Whilde School hopes to use it to enhance its project-based learning approach, offering kelp farming and carpentry instruction there, for example, and as a natural stage for lessons in lighthouse history, coastal ecology and environmental stewardship.

Malloy, a teacher, started the Whilde School – the name is derived from “whole child education” – in Yarmouth in 2016 after she found that the traditional public school system was not working for her daughter, who has autism, she said. She uses a Maine homeschool curriculum personalized for each of the 45 neurodivergent students who attend classes in person at the school building on Yarmouth Crossing Drive. The school also offers an online program.

“I saw how our education system needed to change to offer different options for kids that just don’t fit the same model,” she said.


The island is an exciting opportunity for the Whilde School, said Karen Farrell, whose son is a Whilde student.

“The kids would benefit so much from the time that they could spend on the island learning about nature and science,” Farrell said. “It would be such a great thing for all these kids.”

The monument on Little Mark was built in 1827 as a lightless daymarker, and was a replica of a similar structure built in 1811 in Cape Elizabeth. The interior was originally stocked with supplies for shipwreck survivors who might wash ashore there. In 1927, a white beacon light was added to the top of the monument, which can be reached by a ladder along the structure’s south face.

The light was deactivated in 2019, returning the monument to its original role as a daymarker. The structure was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2016.

Molloy said she will know if the Whilde School’s application has been selected in August or September. The school is competing against several other applicants, including the town of Harpswell.

“I don’t know what the outcome will be, but I know we’re all really hoping that we can have a shot at obtaining it,” she said.

– The Portland Press Herald contributed to this report. 

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