Lettie G. Howard, An Exercise In Educational Excellence.

Education in maritime is in a class by itself for too many reasons to count. Bottom line; maritime education works, and people are starting to take notice.

The strength of maritime education lies in integration. Basically it allows students to engage in multiple learning experiences simultaneously. Instead of one hour of language, one hour of math and one hour of science, the Holy Grail in education is to find a setting where one hour of education is the equivalent of three hours of language, math and science.

This often occurs in maritime education and that is why it is so effective (as described in this SNAME article by Gayle Horvath of NMHA), but just because it occurs, does not mean that it cannot be improved or enhanced.

On May 12, 2014, a very special group of New York Harbor stake holders made an announcement that provides an entirely new concept in maritime educational excellence.

New York harbor is blessed with two very interesting maritime high schools, the New York Harbor School on Governors Island and the Marine Academy of Science and Technology at Sandy Hook.

One is a New York school and the other is a New Jersey school. The schools have different origins and different student bodies, but they both are paragons of educational innovation and success. And they both have strong on the water programs that combine with excellent scholastics.

Now enter the Lettie G. Howard. The Lettie is a truly historical Downeast fishing schooner. She is a national historical landmark and has been part of South Street Seaport Museum for many years. The Harbor School students have sailed on the Lettie and love her for her grace and power. This led South Street Seaport Museum to approach Harbor School and inquire if they wanted to adopt the Lettie as their school vessel. While the Harbor School would love to add the Lettie to her fleet, she is just too much boat for the Harbor School to handle alone.

And this is where innovation came in. If she is too much for one school to handle, maybe she can be handled by more than one school?

The Harbor Foundation pursued this idea and soon MAST was in on the concept. And what a concept it is! Normally school ships are rather static. They sit along the dock, occasionally take students out on trips and very occasionally take a longer summer trip with students. But sharing a school ship among multiple schools gets to be a very interesting proposition because it adds additional layers of educational integration, especially if the geography is just right and in the case of the New York/New Jersey harbor the geography is almost perfect.

These are the educational layers that will come into play:

1. The Lettie can be a platform for pure sail training and character development of high school students.

2. The Lettie can engage in various types of research on behalf of either or both schools.

3. The Lettie will be shared by multiple schools in one harbor and therefore the vessel will be roaming around the harbor and will have a harbor wide aspect rather than be a single location focus.

5. The vessel can serve as a basis and platform for cultural exchange within harbor communities. (Think of it as a harbor wide cultural mixer)

6. The school contact and exchange will allow schools to learn from each other with regard to best practices and approaches, and hopefully also will create a little beneficial competition. (See this blog further describing these 6 points)

7. During the summer term, the Lettie can sail over longer distances with mixed local maritime school students to other ports as an ambassador.

8. There is a remarkable geographical/navigational coincidence, where both schools are linked by a common ferry line (Seastreak Highlands to Wall Street) and are at a distance where they can sail with the Lettie from one school to the other in one school day. (Seastreak is already supporting this project in the transportation of students and faculty between Harbor School and MAST)

9. School ships that can go on trips from one place to another, instead of sail only from homeport out into the harbor and back to homeport, are much more powerful educational tools.

10. The Lettie can do a shuttle between the two schools on almost a daily basis without serious logistic effort on the part of the schools. Students would simply catch the ferry to go home. (Life would be even more perfect if there were a secure and deep draft marina exactly at both schools, but this is not a requirement).

11. The schools will have a very attractive public platform that can help in the promotion of their missions.

12. Involvement by the Port Authority and port businesses with this program will provide much desired commercial involvement in the education of the next generation.

The most amazing aspect of this concept is that it is portable and the presence of the Lettie in the port of New York and New Jersey can be an inducement for other schools in the port to take on or expand maritime education and share in the Lettie’s benefits.

In other words, what used to be small cells of educational excellence can now grow into a harbor wide movement.

All of this costs money and naturally the question is: Who will pay for this? The Lettie will cost about $600,000 per year to operate, and this is too much for local school boards to handle, but fortunately the port itself in the form of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has taken notice and has taken the lead in providing start-up financial backing and developing a partnership with port companies to provide continuous support for this project under their “Two States, One Port campaign.

$600,000 per year is a not insubstantial amount of money, but when one considers that the port provides somewhere around 300,000 jobs, it represents about $2 per port employee and, at that level, can only be considered to be a prudent investment and it is hoped that everybody in the port will take notice and support this project.

One of the largest ports in the country will then have a sailing port representative that can embody the aspects of a modern and dynamic port and at the same time will be able to showcase an educational approach that will be benefit the entire country.