Twenty years ago, Norm Manly of the Foss Maritime Company based in Seattle, Washington, identified a problem within the marine industry: workers were retiring and there was a need to bring the younger generation on board. So Manly, along with other local businesses, formed the Youth Maritime Training Association (YMTA). Seattle Public Schools caught on and collaborated with the YMTA to develop the Ballard Maritime Academy, a Career Technology (CT) Vocational Education program anchored on the Ballard High School campus in a neighborhood known for its maritime traditions.
At the helm is John Foster, a U.S. Navy man turned schoolteacher. Foster developed the Maritime 1 and 2 program and later collaborated with biology teacher, Noam Gundle, to expand the program with an oceanography class to set the groundwork for kids interested in exploring careers in the marine industry.
The program teaches a wide range of maritime and seamanship skills. These include maritime history, marine science and research, navigation, bathymetry, meteorology, engine and electronics basics, survival skills, knots, and man overboard drills just to name a few. The students also earn their Washington Boater Education card during the course. Additionally, with the oceanography component added to the program, students learn the science behind the oceans, climate change and ecosystem biodiversity with concentrations in ocean chemistry, plate tectonics, and marine sediment.
Classroom work is combined with an active field trip component that takes students out in the field to experience marine industry professions first-hand. Fan favorites include a visit to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) at Magnuson Park, an outing to Lake Union to explore the Virginia V engine room, and the trip to the Northwest Maritime Center in Port Townsend to see restoration efforts on the Western Flyer, the famous fishing boat used by John Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts, who told their story in the 1951 book The Log from the Sea of Cortez.
Another popular field trip is the three-day adventure onboard the Zodiac sailing schooner tallship in the San Juan Islands. The piece de resistance, however, is the 10-day trip to Maui offered to students every other year. Due to its emphasis in areas of ecology and biology, students earn a half credit in science towards high school graduation in Hawaii due to the vigorous schedule that includes volcano studies, cultural immersion activities, and community service projects.
The impact of the Ballard Maritime Academy is far reaching. Parents have raved that the program was the only class their child ever talked about at home. And consequently, some of these same parents still serve on the Steering Committee long after their child has graduated. Some students have gone on to the Seattle Maritime Academy and many of those interested in earning a license have attended the California Maritime Academy in Vallejo, California. Graduates have also attended other maritime schools around the country, including the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, and
the Maine Maritime Academy. And still others have earned a license by working their way “up the hawsepipe.”
Others take what they learned into their recreational lives, which was the case for former students Ian Andrews and Colin Dunphy who met in the Maritime class at BHS and later formed MAD Dog Racing and went on to win the Race to Alaska (R2AK) in 2016 on a 32’ catamaran.
“They planned every aspect of the trip,” shared Ballard Maritime Academy’s John Foster with pride, “and hit all the tide turns just right. I’d like to say I taught them all they knew, but it would be a lie. They were sailors already, but I could not have been prouder.”
At its height, Foster was able to create a curriculum for the program that spanned a student’s high school career from their freshman to senior year. But due to budget cuts, space constraints, graduation requirements, and other challenges facing Seattle Public Schools, the Ballard Maritime Academy program is now down to just two semesters. “In previous years, I was able to get the seniors to the point of preparing for US Coast Guard exams.” Adds Foster, “I would love to see us return to a minimum four-semester curriculum.”
With an annual fundraising goal of $20,000, funding for the Ballard Maritime Academy comes primarily from corporate donors in the marine industry. These funds, combined with an annual BHS fundraising event, keep the out-of-pocket expenses at a minimum for all class participants.
The vocation training that students receive through the Ballard Maritime Academy is immeasurable and sets the right trajectory to inspire kids to think about careers in the maritime industry. “There are tens of thousands of jobs out there in maritime,” explains Steering Committee Member and professional fisherman Jerri Harden, “and this program is just the first step to get students engaged and connected to what’s out there.”
Currently, there are 19 kids participating in Ballard High School’s Maritime Academy for the 2019-2020 academic school year. Of this class, four of the students are girls and 18 have already earned their Washington Boater Education card. For more information about the program or to make a donation through the Ballard High School PTSA fund, please visit ballardhs.seattleschools.org/academics.