The sea, and mankind’s ties to it, are too vast to teach about in a school year, or a lifetime.
But some students at Ocosta High School are making a start of it.
“I saw it on a poster at my school and said, ‘that sounds like my type of thing,’” said student Hannah Baldwin, a member of the program. “I think it’s fun. It might seem like a waste of time for some people but we have a good community.”
[Harbor Resort burns to the ground]
Westport is inextricably linked to the sea, said instructor Paul Mirante, and this program, based off the Core Plus Maritime curriculum, will help students learn more about life beyond the shores, and prepare them if they eventually choose to seek their living at sea.
Paul, who spent more than four decades at sea operating and owning charter fishing boats, also works as a substitute teacher at the school district and was picked to head up the nascent program.
“Well, first of all, like I told the committee, every young person in our Westport community should know the unique opportunities in the place they live,” Paul said, going on to talk about summers he spent growing up in Westport. “For me this was like a magical place.”
The afterschool program currently has a handful of students, who split their time between learning the basics of maritime history and navigation and hands-on, as the students, working in rented space at BlueThumb Marine, worked to restore an old Coast Guard rescue boat for display at the Westport Maritime Museum, said Andrea Mirante, director of Ocosta Extended Learning for the Ocosta School District.
“The boats however were donated by the Maritime Museum. John Shaw has a plethora of boats for the students to work on and refurbish. Josh (Fuhrmann) and Conor (Casey) (owners of BlueThumb Marine) also have ample access to boats and boat parts that are being salvaged,” Andrea said. “Having partnerships with individuals and like John Shaw with the museum and Josh and Conor allow us access to restoration projects, but also individuals in the marina who have knowledge and skills that can be shared with the students.”
Those partnerships, with people with knowledge both historical and hands on will allow students to learn from a variety of sources, Paul said. Other organizations have helped supply materials and supplies, as well as offering future internships and other opportunities for students in the program, Andrea said.
“The content is unlimited. There’s so much to study. There’s the oceanography aspect. There’s learning weather, learning the rules of the road as far as ship traffic. The buoys, the signals. Today, I had them scour that chart. ‘What does that mean? What is that?’” Paul said. “We’re going to get into some maritime history. Next week we’ll start on some chapters about ancient times, how it progressed. I think the most fascinating study would the Polynesians and Micronesians and how they developed what they called wayfinding.”
Wayfinding was a body of knowledge used by many Pacific people to make journeys of thousands of miles navigating without instruments, relying on stars, currents and wind, long before other navigators would eventually cross the vast Pacific.
“There’s so much to learn. The history. Boatbuilding. They used to tie boats together using vines before iron came along,” Paul said. “The Somalians went from Somalia to India using that. They were the first to cross the Indian Ocean.”
The history will move on to other aspects of maritime history, from ancient to contemporary.
“I wanted to learn about the Spanish Armada,” said student Evan Brockhoff.
History and learning to navigate is only half of the current education, though. Students also spend half the time disassembling, cleaning and restoring the Coast Guard rescue launch.
“I like that we’re kind of doing engineering,” Brockhoff said. “We’re going to be rebuilding a 71-year-old boat.”
The boat will not be functional, but will go on display once the students are finished restoring it to its complete original appearance, down to the Coast Guard’s iconic orange stripes.
“We’re going to learn to implement a 12 volt system. We’ll implement a fuel system and a bilge system.” Paul said. “They learn how to work with different tools. They’ll learn how to connect wiring. They’ll learn how to connect copper tubes. It’s got a purpose. They’re putting this boat back together.”
Students seemed enthused about the hands-on aspects, as well as the prospect of learning more skills down the line.
“It’s fun. I’m learning stuff I never did before,” said student Logan Slosson. “(I’d want to lean) probably a bit more into the welding and carpentry.”
For many Westport students, boat work is nothing new, reflected Baldwin while cleaning the bilges of the disassembled vessel.
“I’ve been doing stuff like this forever,” said Baldwin, whose parents have boats as well. “The labor is nice. It teaches you some sort of work ethic.”
Eyes to the horizon
With the program in its infancy, the future is wide open. Paul has high hopes for where the program goes.
“The biggest change would be seeing it in the part of the school day. It’d probably get a lot more students. Brainstorm how you want to start them. What topics do you want to master?” Paul said. “I think there’s enough content that you could provide that it would qualify as a shop credit and some academic credit as well.”
That change will likely occur next year, Andrea said.
“We initially had 25 students ready to start this fall, however, with the program being in the after-school program we have three,” Andrea said. “Next year the goal is to have at least 25 students, and these numbers look very promising since this will be the shop class next year.”
Paul said he hoped to see the program expanded to have a graduated curriculum, where kids who spent longer and longer in the program would be doing more and more advanced work, teaching students skills that would be useful on and off the water, or preparing students for a possible career at sea, strengthening the Westport community.
“I like learning about other types of boats and what other people do. They’re not all the same” Baldwin said. “I want to be a tugboat captain.”
Time will tell what the future holds for the program, but for now, the kids are doing well, Paul said. The program offers levels of certificates relating to skills acquired around maritime industries and operations.
“They’re getting more acclimated,” Paul said. “Lately it seems like they’ve turned the corner.”
Paul said the program partnered with the Westport Maritime Museum, and was particularly thankful for BlueThumb Marine for providing the shop space the program is renting and working with the students.
“Right now we’re very unexpectedly fortunate,” Paul said of BlueThumb. “They’re very enthused to be part of this.”
The program has been a long time coming, Andrea said.
“Honestly, this has been a long-awaited program for this community, and I am so appreciative that the community has welcomed and supported this program with open arms,” Andrea said. “Any fishermen that I have spoken to are so appreciative that the students have this opportunity and look forward to connecting them to positions in the future. They say that having the knowledge and skills to be able to contribute is a huge relief, and quite frankly they’re a little jealous that it wasn’t around when they were in school.”