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Profile Maritime High School

Photo courtesy Maritime High School FB

All aboard at Maritime High School

Marine industry-focused public school is project-based learning at its best

For Alex Jackson, the afternoon had been full of conversations about budgets, construction materials, and innovative uses for one of Seattle’s piers. Jackson and their team carefully considered Seattle’s 1% art fund, environmental impacts, and potential visitors’ interests. This sounds like a typical workday in a professional office, but Jackson and their team are actually 10th-grade students. They attend Maritime High School in Des Moines, where students engage in project-based learning around the maritime industry.

Jackson, now 16 and in 11th grade, collaborated with peers to propose an aquarium and research center where visitors could peer into the Puget Sound and observe marine animals in their environment. Other groups’ ideas included a skate park, Indigenous art, seating areas, and a performance stage.

“I really enjoy the opportunities and networking we’re able to do,” Jackson said. “My favorite part is where [the school] tries to focus you on finding a career instead of having you sit in a classroom and think about it.” 

 

Projects like these are a major selling point and strength of Maritime High, which opened in 2021 as a collaboration with Highline Public Schools, Northwest Maritime Center, Port of Seattle, and the Duwamish River Community Coalition. The school aims to equip students for careers in marine science, marine engineering, and other maritime industries and covers a variety of professions, from executive roles to cargo agents to ferry deckhands, water vessel pilots, and more.

Jackson was part of Maritime’s inaugural 9th-grade class. Next year, they’ll be part of the school’s first graduating class. 

Profile Maritime High School

Photo courtesy Maritime High School FB

The school currently has 120 students in three grades, with projected growth to 400, but its location at an interim site limits enrollment. Principal Jamila Gordon says that the school plans to be in a new site by the 2025-2026 school year, which will accommodate more students.

Gordon says the school resonates most with students who like hands-on projects and who think outside the box. “[Maritime] could also be for the kid who thinks, ‘I don’t want to go to college. I just want to go to the workforce right away,’ which is perfectly fine. We need to dispel the notion that somehow your university education is better. It’s different, but it’s not better.” 

Surrounded by water, the Seattle area is perfect for this school. Plus, the maritime industry is a top economic driver in Washington state. In 2023, the Port of Seattle reported more than 170,000 maritime jobs, with an average annual salary of $112,000. However, the industry projects a job shortage as the existing workforce ages out—and that’s where Maritime High students hope to step in.

profile maritime high school

Photo courtesy Maritime High School FB

A Different Kind of School Experience

During 9th and 10th grade, students learn about the maritime industry alongside traditional subject areas. Ninth graders always take a boat tour along the Duwamish River, where they learn about the area’s history and significance. The students then guide family and community members on the same tour, sharing what they learned.

Before entering 11th grade, students choose one of two pathways—marine science or vessel operations—as they progress into more rigorous academic work and hands-on learning at partnering institutions like Seattle Maritime Academy and Highline College.

Rather than earning traditional grades, students have a Mastery Transcript—recognized by colleges and industry leads—showing their competency through projects and presentations. Most will graduate with college credits or industry credentials. Students are encouraged to take ownership of their projects and experiment with what their education looks like.

Not all projects, however, are about maritime. Zayne Glantz, 17, created a documentary about education, explaining how students benefit from Maritime High’s alternative learning approach.

“I don’t know if I would see myself in the maritime industry, but I think that’s one of the school’s hidden strengths,” Glantz said. “They teach you about the maritime industry, but a lot of the skills and things they teach are applicable to any industry, any field.”

Profile Maritime HIgh School

Photo courtesy Maritime High School FB

A Bridge to a Stronger Future

Gordon, who is in her first year as principal at Maritime High, has always been interested in connecting students with their future—and she is in the right place for that. Maritime aims to foster skills beyond the school walls, including connecting students with mentors in the industry.

Mara Mersai, 17, values the mentorship opportunity that Maritime offers. She said a mentor can help with school projects or be a sounding board to simply figure out if you are interested in a maritime career. “Overall, you have someone to talk to or network with once you want to jump into the maritime industry,” she said. 

Mersai learned about Maritime High from a middle school teacher who knew about Mersai’s initial interest in marine biology, which was influenced by her dad’s tendency to show National Geographic shows to his kids.

When thinking about who Maritime High can serve, Gordon acknowledges disparity gaps in education and employment, which shape her outreach efforts. Communities of color rely heavily on word of mouth and personal invitations, so Gordon has flyers translated into multiple languages. She also connects with organizations that serve specific cultural groups to reach potential students.

“It’s just [having] that opportunity, right?” Gordon said. “[For] families who tend to be further away from educational justice … our immigrant families, or families who tend to be lower income—this is a great opportunity. One of my brown kids said to me, ‘I never thought I was going to be able to go to college,’ and he’s studying at Seattle Maritime Academy part-time in his pathway. So it creates opportunities for kids to come out and make some good money.”

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About the Author

Melody Ip

Melody Ip has been an avid writer since she got her first diary at the age of 5. Today, she is a freelance copy editor and writer, in addition to being the copy chief for Mochi Magazine. She loves the trees and rain of the Pacific Northwest, still sends handwritten letters, and always has at least five books on her nightstand.