Starting this autumn, America will have another maritime high school, giving kids from diverse backgrounds the opportunity to learn about the fun of recreational boating, and about the opportunities to work and build
careers on and near the water.
Only a handful of maritime high schools exist in the nation right now; the standard-bearer is The New York Harbor School, founded in 2003 and now located on Governors Island, just across the water from the Statue of Liberty. The newest school will be on the other side of the country: Maritime High School, part of the Highline public school system just outside Seattle. The school is on track to open this fall with a single incoming freshman class, and then will add additional grade levels in following years, welcoming students from nearby communities as well as those within the district’s own radius.
“The school is going to have a project-based learning approach, which means that instead of kids coming in and doing first-period English and second-period math, they’re going to be doing a project that will take them three to six weeks,” says Bernard Koontz, executive director of teaching, learning and leadership for Highline Public Schools. “With their teachers and industry partners, they’ll be working on a big question. It might be, how can we improve the efficiency of container ships? Across that three to six weeks, the kids might be in a conference room talking to a shipping company, trying to understand how things work to get into a policy issue that is causing some kind of inefficiency. And they might spend three or four days on a dock asking people how the process of loading containers works. A few days a week, they’ll be out in the field, and the other days, they’ll be in the classroom, say, learning specific math tools to work on this problem.”
To create the Maritime High School’s curriculum, the team from Highline is partnering with Northwest Maritime Center in Port Townsend, Washington. That organization is best known to recreational boaters for its annual Wooden Boat Festival, but it also runs educational programs for children as young as 5 years old. In addition to its own offerings, Northwest Maritime Center has worked with schools in Port Townsend to create maritime-themed lessons for students in kindergarten through high school.
“In the Port Townsend test model, every certified teacher has an additional instructor from the maritime center who is there to help with the hands-on portion of the boating lesson,” says Jake Beattie, the center’s executive director. “Just two days ago, they were learning outboard repair as both a practical skill and as a way of talking about systems—how pumps work, all of that. You really can apply it to any subject. In our seventh-grade program,
students aren’t just learning algebra; they’re also doing chart work with time, speed and distance equations. And then, in the next class, they go inside some kind of a boat and can navigate using the plan that they just created in algebra class.”
One of the high school’s goals is to create access to boating and the water for all kinds of students, including those whose demographics have, historically, been largely missing from recreational boating and other waterfront opportunities. Koontz says that as part of the ongoing national conversation about equality and equity, the school will be positioned to make a real difference in a lot of lives.
“Part of the design of this school is to ensure that access to the water is not proportional to your ZIP code or your skin color,” Koontz says. “Projects like this are a way to disrupt some of that disproportionality that we see out on the water. This is part of how we break that down and begin to change it.”
Beattie says boaters who want to support the new school can contribute in a variety of ways. First is through financial donations, which can be made through Northwest Maritime Center’s website. The center also has a vessel-donation program, which gives donors a tax break if they’re looking to hand off an older boat. And, individuals or companies with skills or knowledge that might be useful to the program can reach out to discuss the possibility of hosting internships.
“We’re not trying to turn everyone into a marine tech or a tugboat captain,” Beattie says, “but we’re hoping to create a higher level of adoption of boating as a career path or a recreational path.”
In terms of defining that recreational path, Koontz says the school’s curriculum will very likely include wooden boats and sailing, both of which have a strong presence and tradition in the Pacific Northwest.
“We want to expose kids to that sector of the industry,” Koontz says. “Not only does it mean jobs, but there’s also fostering a lifelong love of boats and being on the water.”
This article was originally published in the April 2021 issue.