Second Grader Brandon Schlund Is a Standout Student in His School—He's Also the Only One

updated 11/06/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/06/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

A thick rope leads to the bell that summons the student body to the Pines public school on Michigan's Bois Blanc Island. Second grader Brandon Schlund gets to pull that rope 10 times each school day. In fact, the bell is redundant; when Brandon rings it, everyone is present. Brandon, 7, is the student body at the one-room, one-pupil school.

"I love being the only kid in school because I get all the attention from the teacher," says Brandon, "and I get to do all the projects." If the childhood that Brandon is living now, in 1989, seems to hark back to hardier frontier days, it is because times are tough on Bois Blanc (pronounced Bob Lo by the locals), 40 minutes by ferry from Cheboygan, near the Straits of Mackinac where Michigan's upper and lower peninsulas meet. The 5-by-12-mile island is home to more than 2,000 summer people, but only about 40 live there year-round. There are just five full-time jobs, one of which is schoolteacher, a post held by 39-year-old Lanita White.

"The reason there aren't more kids," says Clover Schlund, 34, Brandon's mother, "is that it's too hard to make a living on the island, so most people move away." Clover and her husband, Joe, 40, manage two companies, one a home construction and remodeling firm, the other a maple syrup operation. Their roots run deep; Brandon, their only child, is a sixth-generation Bois Blancer.

The rugged self-sufficiency that the island demands is one reason why the local school board sometimes has trouble finding a candidate for the $27,000-a-year teaching position. "An important criterion for teachers is their ability to adapt to island living," says Judy Wriska, the board president. Island living includes being cut off from the mainland whenever floating ice makes the straits unnavigable, as it does for about six weeks a year.

None of this, however, deterred White, the school's fourth teacher in the last six years. White has been summering on Bois Blanc since she was 3. "I took the job because I thought the island would be a wonderful place to raise kids," says White, who met her husband, Mike, on the island in 1977 when they both looked at the same piece of land. "This truly is a unique situation. My teacher friends downstate have crowded classrooms, 35 to 37 kids in a room. They envy me." Envied though she is, White does wish there were at least a few more children in her school. "There is a tremendous loss with no socialization," she says. "The hardest thing is not having other children for Brandon to compete with or learn from."

Brandon's mother isn't worried about her son's singular status. "Sure, there are times when he wishes he had someone to play with," she says. "But his pals are his pets—Cato, a white poodle-dachshund, and Blue Gill, a sunfish—his dad and his granddad. Brandon is growing up fast; he's a mechanic, a fisherman, an electrician, a hunter and a woodsman, and he can run heavy construction equipment."

Brandon is a bright, energetic and well-adjusted boy, with a mischievous sense of humor. "The other day," his teacher reports, "he was sniffling like he was coming down with a cold. And I told him, 'You'd better take care of yourself. What would I do if you got sick?' He snickered and said, 'Oh, well, Mrs. White, you'd have to hire yourself another kid.' "

If she can hang on for the rest of this school year, Mrs. White needn't go to such lengths. Next fall, her 4-year-old son, Michael, will start kindergarten.

—Michael Neill, Julie Greenwalt on Bois Blanc Island

From Our Partners