Highline Schools’ all-new Maritime High School opens in Des Moines

Sep 3, 2021, 5:26 AM | Updated: Sep 7, 2021, 11:42 am
(KIRO 7)
(KIRO 7)

A brand-new high school in the Highline School District is trying to help the Pacific Northwest’s maritime industry boost its numbers.

Maritime High School in Des Moines is specifically geared toward kids who may want a career in the maritime industry. The first of its kind in the Puget Sound, the high school uses hands-on learning to help prepare students for what they may face in the real world, out on the water.

“It connects learning on the water with immersive, project-based high school, … creating context in the learning through experience and projects related to the maritime world,” said Jake Beattie, Executive Director of the Northwest Maritime Center — a partner organization of Maritime High School.

Similar to Aviation High School in Tukwila, the marine projects at Maritime High School are interwoven into the students’ normal core classes, so they get a standard Washington high school education blended with the added bonus of career training. The curriculum is designed by people in the industry.

Northwest maritime industry starving for workers

“So it could be that they’re learning math, but really they’re designing a boat,” Beattie said. “Or it could be that they’re learning language arts, but they’re writing papers about restoration projects on the Duwamish River.”

Students will frequently spend time on boats, and will even have internships at local marine businesses.

Maritime High School was brought about by the Northwest Maritime Center, Highline Public Schools, the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition, and the Port of Seattle after decades of struggles to recruit and retain maritime workers.

Ian Sterling, a spokesperson for the Washington State Ferries, said that some of this has to do with the Puget Sound’s tech boom.

“If you are a kid and you’re getting out of high school and you want to go pursue a career someplace, well, a lot of times that means Amazon or Microsoft, or one of the tech companies,” Sterling said.

It’s been a big switch for a city that was established as a capital of seafaring. Marine jobs and their way of life permeate Seattle’s history and culture, from the city’s foundation in the 19th century, to the iconic image of fish-throwing at Pike Place Market, to the local sports teams’ names.

“Back in the day, the Maritimes were really considered part of Seattle and would be something that you’d look at, and that’s just not the way it is anymore,” Sterling said.

But the hope is that Maritime High School can help give that important cultural and economic aspect of Seattle a resurgence.

“Maritime economy is a big part of Washington state, especially in the Seattle area,” Beattie said. “So this is a chance for students and their families to connect with that.”

And besides adding youth to the industry, there is also a focus on adding diversity. While the Highline School District is more than 3/4 students of color, the population of marine workers in the area doesn’t match that.

“The 5,000 maritime sector jobs in a 5-mile radius of South Park — 96% of those are held by white people,” Beattie said.

To increase access to maritime careers, the goal is for the school’s composition to match that of the entire district in terms of race and gender.

“The maritime industry needs to be more accessible, and especially more accessible to women and people of color,” Beattie said. “And so it’s no accident that this school is being placed in a highly diverse school district.”

The incoming class of freshmen this year will have 35 kids, but each year will add another class of freshmen, until there are four grades total.

And if a student doesn’t want to captain a boat, there is plenty more to the maritime industry. The field is very broad and includes a variety of careers, from vessel construction to environmental preservation. There is something for everyone, Beattie said.

“There’s marketing and administration, there’s design and engineering, maintenance, there’s operation, there’s research,” he said. “The maritime sector’s opportunities are really as broad as anyone wants them to be.”

To learn more, visit Maritime High School’s website. Right now, the school is only open to students in the Highline School District.

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Highline Schools’ all-new Maritime High School opens in Des Moines