Calling future skippers, fishermen, engineers, marine biologists, forestry management professionals and cooks.
Alongside its traditional academic pathways, George Stevens Academy has initiated new programs that give students a taste, and training, for careers.
“[They] open avenues for a segment of the [school] population being underserved,” said Assistant Head of School Buzz Moore.
“Placed based education” is how Dean of Students Libby Rosemeier describes the Eastern Maine Skippers Program, kicking off on September 24, of which GSA is a charter member.
George Stevens Academy joins high schools in Deer Isle-Stonington, North Haven, Vinalhaven, Mount Desert Island, Ellsworth and Narrraguagus in a skippers program that gets students out on the water to learn fishing, navigation, diesel mechanics and cold water safety and to see marine life close up.
“It honors local industry, a local way of life,” Rosemeier said in a recent interview. “I really think this consortium between schools is unprecedented, especially in Maine.”
Students who want to enter the fishing industry will earn a commercial license upon graduation from high school, after training one-on-one with established fishing boat captains. Those interested in the scientific aspect of the ocean will have the chance to learn the skills needed out on the ocean and see marine life close up.
The full program will begin in the spring 2014 semester. Learning units will revolve around the national “common core” standards, with students taking courses such as AP Environmental Science, Rosemeier said. Hands-on projects, like the initial “flounder project,” where students design and test the viability of a flounder trap, will also explore questions of sustainability and changing fish populations.
“The idea is to create a more well-informed fleet,” Rosemeier said, who herself is no stranger to lobster fishing. “It’s not about teaching kids to fish.”
The skippers program is one of a handful of new and upcoming GSA programs that allow students to earn college credits at Maine Maritime Academy, learn culinary arts and, in the near future, learn woodlot and forest management.
Currently, six GSA students are enrolled in MMA for a calculus-based physics class, said Carol Bennatti, chairman of the GSA science department. Students attend three online lectures each week and one lab class at MMA. “If they do well,” students will earn four college credits upon completion of the course.
The program was initiated by MMA. “They were looking for a way to enable GSA and other area high schools to take courses at MMA,” Bennatti said. The program took 18 months to get off the ground, mainly due to scheduling. “It’s been a learning curve to figure out how to make it work,” she said.
The weekly lab classes are attended by high school students from Blue Hill, Deer Isle-Stonington and Bucksport.
“[The class] gives them an opportunity to explore MMA,” Bennatti said. “It’s an excellent school [and] it’s right in their backyard.”
Another upcoming program, also in GSA’s backyard, is in woodlot and forest management. The school owns 36 acres behind Blue Hill Consolidated School that students can use as an outdoor classroom, learning how to harvest wood, build trails and manage sustainable forests.
“The possibilities to create something over there are incredible,” said Moore.
Moore researched Maine schools offering forestry and woodlot management programs and found that only four existed, down from “15 or 20, 30 years ago.”
“We’re in Maine,” he said. “This is something people are interested in.”
Out of his own small group of 14 student advisees, Moore found two who were interested in a forestry program. Multiply that by the school population, he said, and the numbers add up.
“We could give them a way to make a living doing something they love, and go through GSA,” he said.
Moore envisions students graduating from the program as certified loggers. This year, physical education teacher Dan Kane “will pursue how to teach someone else” to become certified and to “incorporate aspects of outdoor leadership.” While a complete program is two or three years down the road because of the cost of purchasing equipment, classes could begin earlier.
The Culinary Arts program had everything it needed to start this year—a full kitchen that serves breakfast and lunch to a population of 330 students, including 35 boarding students. The brainchild of Frank Bianco, director of food services, a group of 10 upper classmen revolve through the kitchen in pairs learning the ins and outs of cooking, and food service skills such as knife safety and sanitization.
“There’s a lot of enthusiasm,” Bianco said. He had to use a lottery to choose this year’s students from a pool of nearly 100 who wanted to enroll, and ended up with a fairly even split along gender lines.
Besides helping prepare meals, students will be taking their new skills to Emmaus House in Ellsworth and Simmering Pot in Blue Hill throughout the year.
“My dream would be to have a 20-seat restaurant” at the school run by himself and his students, Bianco said.
The program classes, once fully up and running, will be open to all students either to fully enroll or to take specific classes as electives.