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Maritime Workforce Development + Youth Programming = High Impact for Kids

Updated: May 12, 2023

Photograph by: Mark Hawkins

The Northwest Maritime Center (NWMC), a West Sound STEM Network member, is a premier leader in the regional maritime workforce development. They recently hosted the international Teaching with Small Boats Conference at their campus on the shores of Port Townsend Bay. 167 educators, non-profit leaders, Career and Technical Education (CTE) teachers, workforce development innovators, craftspeople, mariners, community educators, and others gathered together for three days of shared learning that, as Robin Mills, the Northwest Maritime Center’s program director shared was “inspirational to meet with people from around the country, to all come together, who do the same work, because a rising tide raises all boats!”

“The Teaching with Small Boats Alliance (TWSBA) is a collaboration of educators and programs that teach math, science and other essential skills through the process of boat building.” In many ways it is similar to West Sound STEM Network, in that it partners the workforce with education and convenes organizations who come together with a shared mission of collaboration and sharing best practices. Over 345 Organizations have attended TWSBA conferences and since 2010 there have been 7 international conferences. Collectively, these TWSBA organizations annually serve over 100,000 youth!

There were three days packed from 8 am until dinner time with speakers, discussions, activities and opportunities to connect. The diversity of speakers and program highlights this year was remarkable; people building boats as part of a museum studies class, youth building boats and small projects through the Tacoma Community Boatbuilders, a mobile boat building shop that travels school to school in Eastern Canada, New York City students who earn their sea time and sea legs in high school and then work as professional mariners, and our own WSSN member, the Northwest Maritime Center’s maritime programs including the Port Townsend Maritime Academy and the Maritime High School in the Highline Public School District.

Workshop presentations ranged from scaffolding youth programming, building youth workforce development programs, how to help professional boatbuilders become teachers, how to insure youth boatbuilding programs, program fundraising, and what it means to be an anti-racist organization that happens to use boats. Hands-on workshops included paddle making, steam bending, surfboard fin building and tours of local programs and the boatyard.

At the heart of this work, in the public schools, are the Career and Technical Education teachers. Career and Technical Education, has been and will continue to be, a driving force and equalizer in our country bringing equal opportunities across economic, racial and landscape divides. There are very few maritime CTE programs in the country but at this conference many of them were in attendance. From our region. Karl Jordan from Port Townsend’s Maritime CTE programs and Jeff Winn from South Kitsap’s Boat Building CTE program were representing the great work done locally! Neah Bay High School, in the Cape Flattery School District, also has a remarkable Maritime CTE program on the Olympic Peninsula (but was not in attendance).

"Attending the Teaching With Small Boats Alliance conference has allowed for me, as a teacher, to gain insight and understanding on how to better reach my students through boat building. It’s not just about 'building a boat, but more about the connections you are making THROUGH the building of a small boat," said teacher Jeff Winn from South Kitsap High School. "Spending time with people with different perspectives and ideas allowed me to learn new methods that I could include in how I teach my classes. My students are a pretty amazing group of young people who have been really open and receptive to my ideas….no matter how crazy they may seem and have really latched onto a couple of my newest approaches picked up from the conference."

Maritime CTE Teacher Karl Jordan shared that “The TWSBA Conference in Port Townsend was a great opportunity to engage with experienced educators from around the world. I got a lot of value hearing directly from students about their experiences building small boats.”

Like any great educational experience, this conference was a starting place where the outcomes will be realized over time. It is exciting to consider how the lessons shared and learned will manifest in our local programs, as well as with the other TWSBA organizations around the country and world. The West Sound STEM Network is standing by to support our regional partners in moving these lessons forward and seeing how they can serve our students with a focus on small boats and the maritime industry.

For more information or to join the Teaching with Small Boats Alliance please visit For support with career connected learning please contact West Sound STEM Assistant Director Deborah Welsh at

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