Florida is a state that juts out into the water and is home to 14 ports — but still the maritime industry is a mystery to most teens. Now, a rapidly aging workforce in one of the state’s major economic engines is behind a push to reach a younger generation and teach them about sea-going jobs.
In Tampa Bay, maritime interests have teamed up with the Hillsborough School district to create the Maritime Honors Academy at Jefferson High School In Tampa. On a recent morning, 31 students from the the Academy’s freshman class took a tour of the Tampa port. They were welcomed by Port Tampa Bay President and CEO Paul Anderson, who told them “this program is a great way for you to learn about an industry that’s global, and has a great future for many of you, hopefully.
“There’s a lot of people here that, when you graduate, we won’t be working here any more,” Anderson said. “We’re going to be retired.”
And that, he told the students, means job opportunities for you.
Fourteen year old Alexia Hegedus says she’s interested in those jobs. She says she found out something in the program that amazed her. “Ninety-five percent of the world’s goods are traded through ships,” she says. “It’s a very interesting subject, and I’ve always loved the ocean.”
Our conversation is interrupted when the tour guide points out dolphins, and the students rush to look over the side of the boat.
The dolphins get a bigger response than anything else on the port tour, which I mention to the Maritime program director, John Paradis.
“Eighty percent of [Academy freshmen] want to come in and pet a dolphin,” Paradis says. “The market is flooded with marine biologists, and the pay scale is not as high as it is on the maritime industry side.”
Paradis says that when their eyes are opened to the larger world of shipping, they leave the dolphins behind. The upperclassmen say they want to be naval architects, or ship captains. One junior says her goal is Paul Anderson’s job — CEO of Port Tampa Bay.
As the boat passes through the Ybor Channel, the tour guide points out International Ship Repair, whose President, Dave Sessums, was the driving force behind this Maritime Academy. Sessums is a member of the Tampa port’s Propeller Club, a group that promotes shipping and maritime interests. Working on the Propeller Club’s outreach and education committee, he partnered with the Hillsborough School District to create the program. Sessums says he started out in the shipping industry at age 12, and nearly six decades later, says he feels compelled to draw new blood into the industry.
“You can’t just walk away and let it wither on the vine,” he says.
Sessums says when they created the program eight years ago, they wanted a broader focus of study than they saw at established schools in Florida, such as MAST academy in Key Biscayne, which focuses more on the yachting industry and marine science. With 16 fields of study, they introduce students to the array of possibilities of maritime work
“Those jobs are everything from a welder to a naval architect,” he says. “From a terminal operator to a tugboat captain. There are a lot of careers that most people don’t know about. And we’re getting old.”
Now Propeller clubs in Broward and Brevard county are working with school districts to set up similar maritime programs there. Last May, the first students graduated from Hillsborough’s other maritime program, at Blake High School. Out of nine graduates, three went to merchant marine academies, and two more work at shipyard trades.
Sessums says he heard a speaker recently — Congressman Elijah Cummings — who summed it up:
“It they can’t see it, they can’t dream it. But once they see it, they start to dream it.”
And that’s the magic of it, Sessums says. For the Maritime Academy freshmen on the boat tour, the hope is that seeing will lead to dreaming.
But those families also want their kids to speak – and read and write – more Spanish in school.
So teacher Alexandra Martin is leading her 1st grade class through “Vamos Papa,” with each child reading a passage from the Spanish language story. Martin helps students through proper pronunciation and words they stumble on.
This is the Miami-Dade public schools’ extended foreign language program, or EFL
Students have 5 hours a week of classes taught in Spanish with additional lessons in English. That’s not just reading and writing, but also math and science.
Spanish is part of everyday life in Miami that’s different from the rest of the country. But Miami-Dade is struggling to find enough teachers qualified in both English and Spanish.
“We had more applicants than we could service so we had to hold a raffle,” said Marta Garcia, principal of Royal Palm Elementary School, near Florida International University. Three students applied for each slot in Royal Palm’s EFL program.
“Parents have realized that it really makes a difference in their child’s education,” Garcia said. “To truly be biliterate and bilingual, it is a big advantage.”
Experts say it should be simple to calculate graduation rates. But it's not.
It sounded like a story guaranteed to irritate taxpayers: a national study out of Rutgers university says more and more public high school students are taking longer than four years to graduate.
Instead, they’re in school for five or six — or more – years!
But Florida school officials say that’s not a problem here. And experts say, they both may be right — the difference may lie in some good news from the last several years.
Graduation rates are an important number because it lets us know how our high school students are doing, in terms of being ready to go to college or go into the workforce.
The Rutgers researchers say the U.S. Census data that they used is a more accurate way to measure graduation rate as it follows individuals through their lives.
They found a decline in on-time graduation through generations of high schoolers born in the 1940s to the 1980s, especially in boys and minority students.There was a definite growing trend for students to graduate well after they turned 18.
But education officials in Florida said, that’s not what’s happening here.
Teacher think lawmakers might have ulterior motives when they created a $44 million bonus program.
“Who are these bonuses for?”
It’s a question we heard from teachers over and over again while reporting on the new Best and Brightest Scholarships. They’re not actually scholarships — they’re bonuses worth up to $10,000 for teachers who scored in the top 20 percent of students when they took the SAT or ACT and earned the state’s top rating, “highly effective.”
Miami Republican Rep. Erik Fresen proposed the $44 million program during the legislative session. He’s said he was inspired by Amanda Ripley’s book “The Smartest Kids In the World.” In the book, Ripley found top students wanted to become teachers in Finland, South Korea and other top-performing nations. That isn’t always the case in the U.S.
Fresen’s bill went nowhere, but he managed to get the money added to the state budget despite objections from the Senate.
For many teachers, qualifying for the bonus meant tracking down decades-old test scores from the two testing companies or from the college they attended. Many teachers said they couldn’t get the records before the October 1st deadline.
It’s why many veteran teachers don’t think they bonuses were meant for them. They think they were intended for young teachers. More recent graduates can get their test scores online and first-year teachers are exempt from the “highly effective” requirement.
Miami teacher Brigette Kinney qualifies for a new state bonus program, but disagrees with the concept.
In Brigette Kinney’s design class at Ada Merritt K-8 center in Miami, one of the key concepts is editing and revising ideas after getting feedback.
Her 8th graders created role-playing games based on books they read. And then adjust the games, after watching their classmates play.
Kinney hopes Florida lawmakers will be as open to change as her students.
“I feel that legislators are out of touch with what it means to be a good teacher,” she said.
Kinney was talking about the new program called the “Best and Brightest Scholarships.” It’s not not actually a scholarship. It’s bonuses for teachers based on how they did on the SATs and ACTs. And they could get as much as ten thousand dollars.
To get the money, teachers need to have scored in the top twenty percent when they took the college placement exams. They also have to earn the state’s top teacher rating – “highly effective.”
Lawmakers in Tallahassee earmarked $44 million in the state budget for the bonuses.
But to get them, many teachers have to track down scores they may not have seen since high school.
The band GOODING performs at Miami Beach High School. The band visits schools around the country to play their music and teach financial lessons.
You might be forgiven for mistaking Miami Beach High School’s auditorium for the Fillmore Thursday.
Students waved lit cellphones above their heads.
They sang along with “whoa-oh-oh” choruses.
But when the concert ended, they got a lesson in what some have dubbed nature’s most powerful force.
“It’s called compounding interest,” says Gooding, the guitarist who uses only the one name professionally and is lead singer of a band by the same name (though in all caps). “Raise your hand if you know what compounding interest is? I won’t make you say it. Awesome.”
If you watch shows like CSI or have seen a car commercial, you’ve probably heard GOODING’s music.