In Palm Beach County, Florida there is a school where students build wooden sailing skiffs, fiberglass boats, and remotely-operated vehicles (ROVs) as part of their regular curriculum. The Marine Technology Academy at Palm Beach Lakes Community High School is a four-year program that operates in a similar fashion to a magnet program, so students from anywhere in the county may apply to the program.
The Academy has received input and support from multiple sources, including the community, local industry, dedicated instructors, and the MATE Center. Palm Beach County has funded the Academy’s development, and the plan is to follow the four-year high school program with a two-year program at Palm Beach Community College, creating an articulated program between the two educational institutions. Further, the Academy’s success to date is also largely due to the hard work and dedication of individuals like Gidget Greco, the education coordinator and an instructor, and George Bradbury, who helps with curriculum development and is the newest member of the teaching team.
The Academy began, in 1998, out of a growing concern that there was a shortage of skilled marine technical workers in the region. “The local industry conducted a survey in conjunction with the County Board of Economic Development,” explains Greco. “What they learned led them to come to the school district, asking it to develop this program.”
"The Academy began, in 1998, out of a growing concern that there was a shortage of skilled marine technical workers in the region"
The Academy now offers the first three years’ curriculum, and the fourth year will be available next fall. Each year focuses on different skills and concepts.
“In our first year I’m trying to teach them a bit about each of the branches of marine technology,” Greco explains. “I want to introduce them to as many career options as possible. There are so many very different fields, such as aquaculture, animal husbandry, seafloor surveying, navigation, and wave energy,” she continues. “Then there are many career directions – such as sales, manufacturing, law, or science – that they can consider within any of those fields.”
Last year’s second level classes built five 11-foot wooden sailing skiffs. Through this project the students learned skills such as woodworking, the use of hand and power tools, measuring, and teamwork. Another aspect of their education is the ‘ship’s store room,’ where students must keep track of all supplies to gain an understanding of inventory and the time and materials they use.
The third year class, available for the first time this year, features fiberglass construction and repair, among other topics. Students are learning to build their own one- to two-foot molded fiberglass boats, including wiring the running lights and the 12-volt electrical systems.
"Last year’s second level classes built five 11-foot wooden sailing skiffs"
The MATE Connection
Greco credits her attendance at the MATE Center’s first (1999) Summer Institute with helping her to move the Academy forward. “We had begun to develop it at that point, with a lot of help from our local industry folks, but we really didn’t realize that marine technology was a recognized field,” Greco explains.
Greco has attended both MATE Summer Institutes now, and Bradbury joined her for this most recent one. “That first Institute was very motivational for me,” Greco says. “I came back and re-worked the entire first year curriculum based on what I learned.” The 2000 Summer Institute, where participants learned how to build simple ROVs, has also provided material for Greco and Bradbury to use with their students.
In addition to the curriculum development and the realization that there is an entire world of marine technology out there, Greco has found that the contacts she’s made through MATE have been very important. “Most people I met teach in community colleges, and a few are located here in Florida; that’s going to come in very handy when we begin to develop the community college portion of our program next year,” she explains.
The MATE Center also gave the Academy a grant to develop eight new classes. “We had instructors of ‘non marine’ courses like English and World History put a marine twist on their curriculum,” Greco says. The students will eventually be able to take all of their required high school classes as part of the Academy. For example, a freshman in the program could have Marine English I, Marine Algebra I, Earth/Space/Oceanography, and so on. Currently, freshman and sophomore classes have been developed; work will begin this year on the junior and senior classes.
Full Sail Ahead
The Marine Technology Academy is on course to its goal of offering a full four-year high school program and then expanding to the community college level. The plan is that the Academy can be a fully-rounded, stand-alone academic body by itself. This will enable its students to enter the workforce with above-entry-level skills, either directly from high school or from a two- or four-year degree, as they choose. This gives students maximum flexibility to craft their future within the marine technology field.
“I’m excited about our program because it creates opportunities for the students while also addressing a real need in our community,” Greco enthuses. The Marine Technology Academy is an excellent example of how hard work, dedicated individuals and institutions, and good partnerships can produce effective results.
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