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A catamaran is a classroom at this high school for future engineers and captains

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

A 40-foot catamaran serves as a floating classroom for students at Maritime High. It's a new school outside of Seattle that's trying to help prepare the next generation of marine scientists, engineers and ship captains. From member station KUOW, Noel Gasca reports.

NOEL GASCA, BYLINE: Before she moved from Arizona to attend Maritime High School in Washington, Giselle Esparza (ph) says she was afraid of the water.

GISELLE ESPARZA: I think it's because, like, growing up in a desert, you're not really, like, used to the ocean and, like, being on boats.

GASCA: But stretching her sea legs is just part of the average school week for Giselle now. On a rainy morning at a marina near Seattle, Giselle and her classmates zip up their bright orange rain gear in preparation for a day on a ship that serves as a classroom, the Admiral Jack.

TYSON TRUDEL: Medium?

GASCA: Over the next few weeks, all 35 students at Maritime High School are going to learn the ins and outs of what it takes to run the boat, like checking the oil and monitoring the radios.

TRUDEL: We're not necessarily handing them a manual that says these are all the things we need to do.

GASCA: Tyson Trudel is a maritime educator and works with the school students. He says the hands-on learning they'll get on the Admiral Jack now is going to help them prepare for real life out on the water.

TRUDEL: We're doing a - here's a chunk. Here's an introduction to the boat. And then here's a goal of, like, we want to safely take the boat out for six hours. What do we need to do that?

GASCA: Getting these students to take the lead is just one way Maritime High School is different from other high schools. Instead of getting letter grades, students set their own goals and show what they've learned through projects. You won't find any sports teams, but you will find a woodshop for building boats. And instead of a class pet, students are raising tilapia.

MIA MLEKAROV: So this is where you can tighten it. Yeah.

GASCA: Maritime High's humanities teacher Mia Mlekarov is helping students tighten their life jackets before they get on the Admiral Jack. Today's lesson plan is a far cry from Ethan Ma's (ph) old school.

ETHAN MA: It kind of feels different.

GASCA: But different is OK for Ethan. He says the hour-long commute to school is worth it because what he's learning now is more interesting to him.

MA: I wasn't completely sure when I would have to cite the Civil War and, like, do a essay about that, whenever (ph).

GASCA: The high school was also created to address diversity issues within maritime. In Seattle, King County, whites make up 78% of the industry and men make up 74%.

MLEKAROV: When we look at disparities in pay and we look at racial disparities in representation at decision-making, those are things that need to change.

GASCA: Teacher Mia Mlekarov grew up watching her mom work in commercial fishing during the 1970s and '80s. She wants her students to bring maritime into the 21st century.

MLEKAROV: I want them to be able to appreciate what maritime is and what it has done for our region, but also empower them to feel like they have the ability to transform it.

GASCA: The eventual goal is for Maritime High School to send 100 graduates each year into the maritime industry or off to technical training or a degree program. Student Ethan Ma is still figuring out what his path will be after graduation. But now he knows he likes learning about the insides of a ship, especially the engines.

MA: Since if I'm going to be doing a job for almost, like, half of my life or more, then I want to at least do - have it being something that I enjoy.

GASCA: And because he's explored that interest in high school, he thinks maritime may be part of his future.

For NPR news, I'm Noel Gasca in Seattle.

(SOUNDBITE OF LOUPO'S "I'M READY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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