Impact Series

Seattle-area maritime highschool units sail with help from tech luminaries Bezos and McCaw

A Washington State Ferry arrives in Mukilteo, Wash. (GeekWire File Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

The Bezos Family Foundation and the McCaw family are putting some wind in the sails of the newly launched Maritime High School. The two Seattle-area tech families are donating to the school, which began holding classes this fall south of Seattle.

The Bezos Family Foundation, which includes Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, will provide $750,000 to the school. The McCaw family, which includes Bruce, Craig, John and Mary Kay, are donating $2 million to the Northwest Maritime Center with $500,000 earmarked for the high school. McCaw Cellular Communications was a pioneering cellular company based in Redmond, Wash. that was acquired by AT&T. The school announced the gifts this week.

Maritime High School provides hands-on learning and is focused on serving female and racially and ethnically diverse students. The public school grew from a partnership between the Northwest Maritime Center, Highline Public Schools, the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition, and the Port of Seattle.

In addition to covering academic basics, Maritime High School students are spending time on marine vessels and at sites along the Duwamish River, which empties near the shores of Seattle. The students will also have mentoring and internship opportunities in areas such as vessel operations, marine engineering and environmental law.

This September, the high school welcomed its inaugural class of 36 ninth-grade students. The hope is to raise a total of $7.5 million and expand the school to 400 teens within four years.

“The maritime industry is a pillar of the state’s economy,” said Port of Seattle Commissioner Ryan Calkins, in a statement announcing Martime’s launch.

By 2025, however, there could be a regional shortage of 150,000 maritime workers, Calkins warned.

The state is already feeling the impact of a lack of trained mariners. This summer and fall, Washington’s ferry system was forced to cut numerous sailings around Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands due to staffing shortages. The state blamed a “global shortage of mariners that has been exacerbated by the pandemic.”

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