Photo depicting youth wearing surgical face masks and life jackets smiling by a waterway. Their instructor stands behind him.

New Maritime High School Offers Project-Based Learning for Ninth Graders

by Chamidae Ford

On Sept. 2, Maritime High School opened its doors to its first class of ninth graders. The new project-based-learning high school is located in the Highline school district and is a recent addition to the five other career-focused high schools in the district. 

At Maritime High School, “Student learning will center on the environment, marine science, and maritime careers working on or near the water,” as stated in the school’s mission

Although the high school is just now opening its doors, it has been in discussion and development for nearly two years, having been slowed down by the pandemic. Maritime High School is a partnership between The Port of Seattle, Northwest Maritime Center, Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition, and Highline Public Schools.

Stephanie Burns, the program director at Maritime High School, mentioned in an interview with the Emerald that the school was a long time coming, given our region’s vibrant maritime community. 

“There’ve been conversations in this region for a long time about the need for a maritime high school. And a couple of years ago, one of the commissioners for the Port of Seattle, Ryan Calkins, started driving the idea of creating a maritime high school,” Burns said. “It would be committed to supporting workforce development for the maritime industry. It would be committed to equity and access to the maritime industry because historically it hasn’t been very representative. Then also really addressing some of our big challenges and problems around climate change and environment and those sort of aspects of our communities.”

While the school teaches the state-mandated learning requirements, it works them into the curriculum in ways that can be learned through maritime-related projects and field trips. 

“My background is in project-based learning and education that sort of helps connect students with relevant, authentic experiences beyond the classroom,” Burns said. “And I think one of the things I’m most excited about is the fact that our school will allow students to experience fieldwork a couple of days a week. They’ll be doing everything from going out on some of our vessels and learning professional maritime skills to doing a tour of the Duwamish River and that region and understanding the historical, cultural, human, and ecological context of that area.”

For student Nick Laurence, the alternative approach to learning was a large draw.

“Project-based learning sounded different than what I was used to, so I kind of stepped out of my comfort zone into something that is fun,” Laurence said. 

In their first couple of weeks, they have already been on multiple outings, initially emphasizing community building. 

“Our field trip was at camp Watsco,” Maritime High School Principal Dr. Tremaine Holloway said. “They have a program geared towards ninth graders to build community. And so we were able to go out there and do a lot of community-building activities to forge the relationships for the inaugural class of 2025.” 

The first couple of days of school, Dr. Holloway said, were focused on relationship building — “really getting students acclimated to the campus that we’re on, learning the ropes, learning how to navigate the campus as well as [enabling] them to understand what learning at Maritime really looks like, because it’s very different in regards to a traditional, comprehensive high school setting.”

Photo depicting a group of students wearing red life jackets and their instructors in a long rowing boat on a river.
Maritime High School teaches state-mandated learning requirements by working them into the curriculum in ways that can be learned through maritime-related projects and field trips. (Photo: Anne Heavey)

While Maritime is within the Highline Public Schools district, many of these students are not Highline residents. Some travel from as far as Olympia to attend, which is one reason for the extra emphasis on community building.

“So they’re coming from all over, which is a great thing. So we’re not necessarily a neighborhood high school,” Dr. Holloway said. “When you think about it, we’re asking kids that have gone through their neighborhood school systems from K through eight to take a chance on us at a school they have never been to before or heard of — because it is brand new — with friends that they haven’t had for the nine years of their educational tenure. So I’m just looking forward to continuing to build on those relationships. And furthermore, just acquiring more kids along the way so they can understand and know the powerful learning opportunity that they would have here at Maritime.”

Laurence is excited for all that Maritime has to offer over the next year.

“I’m looking forward to learning about my community and our environment and our ecosystem here in Western Washington. And I’m looking forward to my classes and making new friends,” Laurence said.

Each year there will be a new class of students introduced to the school. By the inaugural class’s graduation, Maritime will be teaching 400 students. Currently there are 35 students enrolled with space for 10 more. Maritime has an application process but not a selection process, relying on a lottery when there are too many applicants. Interested students can apply on the Maritime High School website.

Other local career-focused schools in the Highline school district include Big Picture Schools, CHOICE Academy, Puget Sound Skills Center, Raisbeck Aviation High School, and Highline Virtual Academy. 

“We’re just absolutely thrilled to have our first inaugural class here and can’t wait to see what we learn and build with them over the next year,” Burns said.

Chamidae Ford is a recent journalism graduate of the University of Washington. Born and raised in Western Washington, she has a passion for providing a voice to the communities around her. She has written for The Daily, GRAY Magazine, and Capitol Hill Seattle. Reach her on IG/Twitter: @chamidaeford.

📸 Featured Image: Maritime High School students have already been on multiple outings, initially focused on community and relationship building. (Photo: Anne Heavey)

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