Versatile learning: Leelanau Essentials Bruce and Laura Hood

By Norm Wheeler

Sun editor

Have you ever dissected a baby goat? Ever had a music teacher tell you to get your instrument ready and then to hit the mute button? Then you missed this spring’s virtual zoom lessons at the Leelanau School, the private boarding school located just north of Glen Arbor. Two of its teachers, Bruce (science and pottery) and Laura (music and senior seminar) Hood used their resilience as long time hands-on experiential educators to do the sudden switcheroo required of all teachers in March to teach on a screen. “Leelanau School is about establishing a relationship with each student,” Bruce explains.

“So thank goodness we had already done that throughout the year and had that to build on,” Laura adds. They figure the vast majority of their students were served well. “We met every single class,” she says, “structured in a rotation, with four hours a day of zoom class, tutorial time in the afternoons, and with the Residential Life staff supplying evening activities almost as if the students were here in the dorms.”

“We kept our all-school meeting to start each day,” Bruce says, “to keep the community feel, with announcements, mindfulness exercises, birthdays, history factoids, and the whole school’s favorite part of morning meeting, headmaster Rob Hansen’s teaching tales and stories.” The Leelanau School’s virtual COVID “new normal” reached students at their homes in China, Thailand, Columbia, Washington State, Minneapolis, West Virginia, and also Leland and Maple City right here in Leelanau County. 

“I think we were really successful,” Laura says. Sometimes, if a student was not in their zoom square at the beginning of class, the learning center staff (with whom they also connected for daily work) would call the parents to get help with a nudge. 

“It allowed some parents and students to also ‘work on some things,’” Bruce laughs, with air quotes.

The Hoods are such seasoned and interesting teachers because their lives are so interesting.  They first met at Interlochen Arts Academy in 1986. Bruce was the son of Interlochen headmaster Jack Hood and, having grown up there, returned home after graduating from the University of New Hampshire in 1985 with a degree in Botany and Alpine Plant Ecology. Laura was raised in Grand Haven where her father was band director, played trumpet, and led the Warnaar Big Band, while her mother played oboe and made reeds for woodwind instruments. After two years at Hope College, and after riding her bicycle from Michigan to California for a gap semester in 1983, Laura spent two years at Michigan State, finishing with a double major in guitar and French horn. At Interlochen Arts Academy they worked for the Residential Life staff in the dorms.

After falling in love, they hit the road: Australia and New Zealand, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, India, trekking in Nepal, and finally Western Europe. In 1992 Bruce and Laura ended up in Marquette, Michigan, where Bruce worked on a teaching certificate in multiple sciences while Laura put him through school by being a nanny and teaching horn, guitar, and piano. 

On the winter solstice of 1992 the Hoods visited old friends the Chamberlains and the Randalls in Interlochen. I met them at that party, and told them the Leelanau School was looking for talented teachers. Bruce finished his degree in May of ‘93 and came to teach Biology in Leelanau’s summer school program right away. Laura joined him in the fall. “There had been no music program,” Laura recalled. “So my first year at Leelanau I had one class and one student: Akari Rokumoto, a four-year senior from Japan. I taught her how to play the guitar, and she played and sang in Japanese during her Valedictory address at Graduation.”

Laura pretty much created the Leelanau School music program from scratch. It now includes the school band, Mighty Snappy, with different instruments and varying skill levels every year, depending on “what the students play or want to play.” She welcomes all instruments and all singers. “Every year we manage to put together a pretty good rhythm section, and then we just see who can play or sing whatever. This year we even had a harp player!” They perform frequently for everyone in morning meetings, and they regularly bring music to local schools like Greenspire, Glen Lake and Pathfinder. Each year they take part in the 9/11 ceremony at the Glen Arbor fire hall, and they finish every school year with a concert at Cherry Republic in Glen Arbor followed by a big Coffeehouse performance at Leelanau School as part of graduation weekend. There is also a progressive guitar program, along with classes in music theory, the physics of sound, the history of rock and roll, and a winter term class in song writing. And Laura plays music around the area as a French horn player in the Benzie Area Symphony and as a founding member of the Manitou Winds ensemble. They have two CDs for sale locally: First Flight (including Laura’s composition of that name), and A Celtic Summer Tide, Live at the Garden Theater.

For Laura, this is just the half of it. Upon her arrival in ’93 she also took over the outdoor education and senior exploratory program. It is a tradition at Leelanau School that the seniors begin the year with an orientation camping trip that includes group initiatives, team building, leadership training, and goal setting. Using her experience with these kinds of outdoor activities, Laura teamed up with the folks at Camp Kohahna (just up the road at Pyramid Point) and with the Bay Area Adventure School and made the program school wide. Now each class goes through an initial orientation to start the year, and in those days each class also took an Exploratory Week trip as part of spring break, including hiking in the Smoky Mountains, visiting Washington, D.C., or caving, rock climbing, and rafting in the Big South Fork Recreation Area in Tennessee (many students join trips now during a week of winter break.) The seniors always go to South Manitou Island for orientation to start the year, paddle a Michigan river in the school’s voyageur canoes in the fall, and finish their senior year camping on North Manitou Island. “I have been doing this for 26 years now,” Laura mused. “The first year out to South Manitou I was pregnant with Ian and puked the whole time!”

Laura also took charge of the after-school physical activity program called Footsteps, a non-competitive but self-competitive program including canoeing, kayaking, biking, and hiking in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. In winter Footsteps becomes a ski club, and as Laura and Bruce are avid skiers, they take interested students to Crystal Mountain almost daily in January and February. In spring Laura heads up the Leelanau Outdoor Challenge, a triathlon for students that includes paddling, biking, and running. This used to be a traditional 18-mile running race around the Glen Lakes, which was won in 1955 by Glen Arbor resident Bob McNutt, Chairman of the Board emeritus of the Leelanau School. Tim Nichols, the pizza man at Riverfront, also used to run that race every year.

And let’s not forget the wisdom and versatility of Bruce Hood. He has taught AP Chemistry, Biology (including Advanced Bio), Earth Science, Ecology, Anatomy & Physiology, and he has been chairman of the science department for many years. He also started the Pottery program in 2010, adhering to the Bernard Leach/Shoji Hamada tradition. Over the years, Bruce managed to get his masters in Ethology (the study of animal behavior) at Central Michigan University. In summer Bruce has worked with Rob Karner and fellow Leelanau teacher Joe Blondia for the Glen Lake Association’s swimmer’s itch mitigation program. “We’ve probably caught 500-600 mergansers over three years in Glen Lake, as well as Lime Lake and North Lake Leelanau,” Bruce explained. “This is a long-term ongoing research project to protect the lakes from swimmer’s itch.”

Bruce is also a dedicated hunter, with a freezer full of woodcock, ruffed grouse, and whitetail deer meat every autumn. Together Bruce and Laura tend a big garden, so they provide most of the food for their dining table. They live on the Telford Farm north of Cedar, an intentional community of nine partners purchased in 1998. The group agreed to cluster their houses in one area in order to preserve in common ownership the pastures, vineyard, big barn, and outbuildings. There are eight houses now, and one lot still un-built.

Bruce and Laura are the proud parents of two star children as well. Ian is 25, he graduated from Glen Lake in 2013, finished a degree in Microbiology at Northern Michigan University, and now works in Billings, Montana, in the hospital laboratory there. Daughter Jessie is a Glen Lake graduate from 2015. She graduated from the University of Findlay with a degree in Equine business management and hunter jumpers, or dressage, and she now travels as a groom with the Olympic rider Kent Farrington.

The Leelanau School treasures the dedication, accumulated wisdom, creativity, and resilience of Bruce and Laura Hood, and Leelanau County is fortunate to have them and families like them choose to live here. These, too, are Leelanau essentials!