When students show up at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School next September, some will go to sea.
For the first time, the school is offering maritime courses. Students will be able to enroll in elective classes that teach boat handling, navigation and even knot-tying.
The newly created maritime studies program at the high school is a collaborative effort between a number of different organizations.
Sail Martha’s Vineyard, a nonprofit organization committed to giving youngsters free boat-handling classes when they are young, has embarked on trying to help high school students pursue careers in the maritime field. Participants in the program include the Steamship Authority, Gannon and Benjamin Boatyard, Martha’s Vineyard Shipyard and others.
The courses fit into the much larger vocational training program that has operated at the school with much success for years, helping students find employment and advanced further training after they graduate. For years students have had access to programs that teach culinary arts, horticulture, automobile service and repair and carpentry. For an Island community, it is only natural to add this maritime program.
Brock Callen, program director for Sail Martha’s Vineyard, said getting this kind of education into the high school has been floated around his organization for years, but the impetus to get started came last fall. He said the program will benefit not only the students, but also the community.
“This training will give these kids the tools they need to go out into the work force after high school, with skills that are relevant to the Vineyard, relevant to the waterfront community and relevant to going on into future maritime studies,” Mr. Callen said.
Mr. Callen said top administrators at the Steamship Authority have been positive from the start. They see it as opportunity to get better trained Island-based employees within their organization. The shipyards also have been positive.
The $218,355 cost of the first year of the program won’t be passed on to the taxpayers. A total of $144,730 is being underwritten by the Steamship Authority and maritime industry partners. The remaining $73,625 will come from Sail Martha’s Vineyard, a nonprofit which already raises fund for other programs offered to Island youth.
Mr. Callen said: “We were the recipient of the largest single grant ever given by the Permanent Endowment for Martha’s Vineyard earlier this spring and it was for this program. We received $15,000.”
The first course being offered next fall is called Basic Seamanship. Students will be spending as many as four hours a week learning seamanship skills, navigation, marine electronics and mechanics.
It is an entry-level course that will open them up for opportunities to take seven other courses, which will get them out of the building and into the field. These courses include deeper instruction on any of the basic tools they’ve learned in the first class. Like other vocational training courses offered at the high school, students in these courses will get their hands dirty, work up a sweat, and gain work experience.
Mr. Callen visualizes seeing a student in one such course going out on a 7 a.m. Steamship Authority ferry, working and gaining experience, and coming off the boat at 3 p.m. “She could be in the engine room every other day, while still following a traditional academic track at the high school,” Mr. Callen said.
This is the course description that appears in the Sail Martha’s Vineyard spring newsletter: “Ship Operations One and Two with the Steamship Authority: The objective of ship operations one is to provide the student practical experience and sea serve time as a ‘wiper’ in the engine room of one of the Steamship Authority’s vessels. As such, the student will learn basic engine and systems operation maintenance and repair . . .”
Other hands-on courses would include working at Martha’s Vineyard Shipyard and at Gannon and Benjamin Marine Railway. Mr. Callen said the U.S. Coast Guard also is involved: “Our goal is that a child coming out of the high school will have an AB license [Coast Guard-issued able-bodied license.]”
Classes will be held at the high school and they also might be held at the Sail Martha’s Vineyard headquarters on Main street in Vineyard Haven, at the old Nathan Mayhew School.
As part of the initiative, Mr. Callen has researched maritime vocational training high schools. He said this kind of program is not being offered anywhere else in the state.
Mr. Callen said he hopes the new program at the Vineyard high school will grow and qualify for state funding.
On May 1, administrators at the high school and the program proponents met. Though phone conversations and e-mails have gone on for months, the meeting was a big step toward starting the program.
In the days ahead, Mr. Callen said his organization will begin a search for a part-time teacher and administrator to run the maritime studies program. They plan on hiring for a start in August, prior to the start of the school year.
Looking farther into the future, Mr. Callen said he sees a summer work-study program being offered to high school students.
“They not only will be earning academic credits, they will be earning money,” Mr. Callen said.
Meanwhile, Sail Martha’s Vineyard is preparing its 15th summer of programs offering free sailing instructions to Island youth. This summer the nonprofit plans to host 276 Island youngsters. Classes begin June 30. Each child will go through a four-week program, meeting three days a week.
“The majority of them will have never spent any significant time on the water,” Mr. Callen said.
Also, last winter Sail Martha’s Vineyard helped 26 Islanders obtain Coast Guard-approved captain’s licenses.
The organization has two full-time paid employees and more than 100 volunteers.
To meet its financial goals and spread its mission, Sail Martha’s Vineyard holds events to raise funds. The group’s biggest events are the annual seafood buffet and auction, set for July 6, and the Vineyard Cup Regatta Weekend, scheduled from July 18 to 20.