Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Creating a New Generation of Mariners—primary and secondary maritime education in America

Excerpt from U.S. Coast Guard “Proceedings of the Marine Safety & Security Council” magazine.

Full article by Captain Arthur H. Sulzer (U.S. Navy, Ret.), Maritime Academy Charter High School, available at www.uscg.mil/proceedings/fall2008.

America’s seafarers used to come from countries or families with a seafaring tradition. At the entry level, mariners were often first-generation immigrants. This has decreased due to the immigration policies of the 1990s and heightened security concerns and requirements for mariners to have citizenship.

The American public has largely forgotten that we are a nation dependent on waterborne commerce. We need to create a new generation of mariners from a new source. That group may be the underserved urban students from our cities. For them, a maritime education can provide a gateway to a career that offers steady employment, excellent pay, further education, and a solid future.

Maritime Education at the Primary and Secondary School Level
In 2003, I had the opportunity to start the Maritime Academy Charter High School in Philadelphia. The school opened with 125 students and has expanded to more than 700 students.

At present, there are approximately a dozen marine or maritime-themed elementary, middle, and high schools open or opening in the United States. The average size of each school is about 350 students.

New York Harbor School (Grades 9-12)—Brooklyn, N.Y.
Started in 2003, the school is one of four theme schools housed in an existing city high school in an economically depressed area of Brooklyn. Demographics are 50% African American and 50% Hispanic. It has a relationship with the South Street Seaport Museum and uses its facility and sail training vessel. It has also developed a partnership/mentoring program with SUNY Maritime College, which provides course material, visiting instructors, and academic and leadership opportunities. http://www.nyharborschool.org/

Palm Beach Maritime Academy (Grades K-8)—West Palm Beach, Fla.
Started in 1999, it is a tuition-free charter school operated by the Palm Beach Maritime Museum. The focus is on maritime studies, science, technology, character education, and life skills. The former USCG Peanut Island facility is used for training, along with historical facilities operated by the museum. The school has a uniform policy and a unique requirement that parents invest a minimum of 20 volunteer hours with the school. http://www.pbmm.org/

Maritime Academy Charter High School (Grades 5-12)—Philadelphia, Pa.
This school opened in 2003. It presently has more than 700 students, with a demographic mix of 70% African American students and the balance a mix of Latino, Caucasian, and Asian students. The school operates as a traditional middle and high school and is developing a model apprentice program with a national tug and barge operator and a partnering/mentor program with SUNY Maritime College. http://www.maritimecharter.org/

Bayfront Center for Maritime Studies (Grades K-12)—Erie, Pa.
This is a non-profit, community-based organization that opened in 1998. Its mission is to deliver hands-on maritime educational opportunities, providing maritime learning experiences within a current curriculum. Programs include environmental studies, maritime history, boat building, sailing, and navigation. http://www.bayfrontcenter.org/

Maritime Industries Academy (Grades 9-12)—Baltimore, Md.
This school opened in 2003 in inner-city Baltimore. It operates a Navy Jr. ROTC unit and has had a Navy career focus option. In 2007 it developed an industry partnering curriculum with local maritime companies. The school has been working with faculty at the Maritime Institute of Technology and Graduate Studies and the International Organization of Masters Mates and Pilots union training school to utilize school facilities for their students. http://www.bcps.k12.md.us/

Mar Vista High School (Grades 9-12)—Imperial Beach, Calif.
This high school, in partnership with the Navy’s Military Sealift Command (MSC), started a program in 2002 designed to have students secure entry-level USCG documents as a wiper for the engine room or an ordinary seaman for the deck department. The students follow a regular high school course of study and use their elective courses to take the U.S. Coast Guard-mandated training. The school sends groups of students with a school instructor to a MSC ship in the summer of their senior year for several weeks. Students who complete the program become eligible for hire by the Military Sealift Command. MSFSC Cadet Shipping coordinator: (757) 417-4223. www.suhsd.k12.ca.us/mvh

While there is not a lot of data, since the programs are all fairly new, it appears that students in the maritime programs are sticking with them. In addition, the quasi-military nature of the maritime industry, with its requirements of command, responsibility, accountability, scheduling, uniforms, and required training, is being transferred to the students. This has had a positive effect on the manner in which they behave among their peers and others.

There are strict attendance and academic standards—merely showing up in class will not earn a passing grade. Once students realize this, they attend classes, study the material, and earn passing or high grades. For many, this is a new experience. By learning how to study and bring up their grades, they gain confidence and pride in their accomplishments.

So far, it appears that employment will be strong. Many schools report offers of summer internship programs and offers of employment for their graduates.

About the author:
Captain Arthur H. Sulzer, a graduate of SUNY Maritime College, is an actively sailing mariner who holds a USCG master’s unlimited license and third assistant engineer’s license (steam motor and gas turbine). He also completed 30 years of active and reserve duty with the U.S. Navy. He holds an M.S. in transportation from SUNY Maritime College, and an MBA in finance from Hofstra University. In addition to his involvement in maritime education, he is a professional marine surveyor and consultant in the Port of Philadelphia.

For more information:
Full article and 124-page “Focus on the Mariner” edition of USCG Proceedings is available at www.uscg.mil/proceedings/fall2008. Subscribe online at www.uscg.mil/proceedings.

Direct requests for print copies of this edition to: HQS-DG-NMCProceedings@uscg.mil.