Three students at a Southport school have created a model lighthouse that is helping to light the way for visitors in The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk as part of the Aquarium's ninth annual Festival of Lighthouses.

"Weathering the Storm of Autism" was entered by Matt Mancusi, Carl Weimer and Drew Greenawalt of the Giant Steps School of Connecticut, a special-needs school for autism and neurological disorders.

Their lighthouse is modeled after Phare du Four, one of the lighthouses on France's Brittany coast that is known for withstanding the pounding of enormous waves.

The students portrayed that characteristic by surrounding their model lighthouse by a crashing wave made of cotton and papier mache.

"We're always impressed with how much work and creativity is put into these lighthouses," said Chris Loynd, the Aquarium's marketing director.

"Some folks go at it from the perspective of starting with a lighthouse and transforming it with a unique or unexpected design, while it seems that others create something wild and artistic and find a way to make it into a lighthouse," he said.

Rules are kept to a minimum to spur creativity. Lighthouses must be 3 to 6 feet tall and have a working light -- beyond that, it's up to the creators' imaginations.

Other entries in the 2010 display include a Lego lighthouse, an aromatic lighthouse made out of gingerbread, a punched-tin lighthouse being attacked by an octopus, a lighthouse tree, and lighthouses made almost entirely from toothpicks and wine corks, respectively.

The Giant Steps students' lighthouse is one of 23 entries in the holiday display, which is open daily and free with Aquarium admission through Jan. 17.

After enjoying the lighthouses, visitors may cast a vote for their favorite. The first-prize winner, to be announced Jan. 20, receives $1,000. Other cash prizes are awarded.

The "Festival of Lighthouses" is free with Maritime Aquarium general admission. For information, call 203-852-0700 or go to www.maritimeaquarium.org.