Ship visit highlights charter school’s missionWritten by John P. McCartney | | firstname.lastname@example.org
When Jason Spegele visits with Toledo high school students May 25, he plans to tell them the same thing he’s telling his 17-year-old son right now.
Spegele, a senior at Great Lakes Maritime Academy in Traverse City, Mich., will be aboard the ship “Training Ship State of Michigan” when the college’s floating classroom docks at 10 a.m. May 25 for its first visit to Toledo.
Renee Marazon, superintendent of The Maritime Academy of Toledo, says the ship is coming to her charter school of 175 students as a way for Michigan college students to talk about maritime education and career opportunities with Toledo high school students. The students will be given a private tour of the vessel. There will be no public tours.
Marazon says Friday’s visit will be just the beginning of a working relationship between then two schools.
As a spokesman for the Michigan academy, Spegele, 39, is far from the typical college senior. When he accepts his business degree later this month, it will be the second time he’s graduating from a four-year post-secondary program. He has already earned a business degree from Spring Arbor University, near Jackson, Mich.
After his first college graduation, Spegele worked in business as a private yacht pilot, Formula boat salesman, and yacht broker in Michigan.
“I was doing really well,” he said. “When the economy collapsed, so did all my financial security and clientele.”
Amy, his wife of 12 years, encouraged her husband to return to school and helped him come to understand what it was he really wanted to do with his life. When she posed that question to him, his response was just one word.
Jason Spegele says, “It’s the place where I’m always the happiest.”
So Amy Spegele gave up her job as stay-at-home mom and returned to the work force, holding down three jobs at the same time for the past four years to support the couple’s family and her husband’s continued education.
It is from his experiences these last four years at Great Lakes Maritime Academy that Jason Spegele gets his insight and advice for Toledo students.
“I will graduate and have my unlimited tonnage license in May of this year,” he said. “I don’t know of any other college curriculum that you can, at the age of 23, make a yearly salary of $80,000 and have six months off out of the year to pursue other interests.”
That promise of success appeals to Henry Brown, 18, a graduating senior from Toledo’s maritime high school, located at 803 Water St.
The week after graduation ceremonies, Brown will go to work for Interlake Steam Ship, a company based in Cleveland, in a job that promised to pay between $1,200 and $1,500 a week. His credentials are his charter school’s diploma.
Brown credits his teachers’ one-on-one instruction and their high expectations during the six years he’s attended The Maritime Academy of Toledo for the job offer. He says he’s lucky that the principal at East Broadway Elementary School took a personal interest in him.
“I wasn’t doing so good in my other school,” he said. “My old principal knew about this school, and he referred me here to my granny. So my granny signed me up. At first, I really didn’t like it. And then, as I kept progressing on and on, I started to like the school more better. What caught my interest was learning the nautical traditions, navigating on water, different bodies of the seas.”
The personal attention Brown refers to is the cornerstone of The Maritime Academy of Toledo’s success, Marazon says.
“It’s the whole person we’re working with here,” the superintendent said. “We are very strict. We require self-regulation. We require the students to follow their own job responsibilities for the week. We don’t baby-sit the children. We teach them how to study, how to learn, and how to earn their grades.”
Marazon also credits her middle and high school faculty of eight core teachers and five specialty teachers for her students’ success. She says the faculty’s willingness to work for an average yearly salary of $35,000, compared with the average yearly salary of $55,000 for Toledo Public School teachers, sets them apart from most public school educators.
“My teachers work like Catholic school teachers,” she said. “They work for less money. Everybody works here for less money. If you talk to my teachers here, they love teaching here, just like Catholic schools.”
Graduating senior Daryl Winfree, 19, says he appreciates what he has seen in his six years at the maritime high school, one of 18 charter schools in Greater Toledo.
Winfree grew up on the north side of Toledo, off Lagrange St. near Central Ave.
“We had like gang violence, shooting every day, people breaking into people’s houses, robbery, everything like that,” he said.
“Here at school, you don’t got to worry about getting jumped or nothing or really getting picked on like that,” he said. “Everybody here is like friends. We’re all family, so there’s no reason to pick on each other.”
Winfree firmly believes that The Maritime Academy of Toledo deserves full credit for his academic successes. He says Toledoans need to pay attention to the benefits of smaller high schools, like the unique coursework they offer their students.
“I got better learning here than if I would have gone anywhere else,” he said. “ ‘Cause I know if I went to another school, I’d probably be getting into trouble, hanging out with friends and stuff like that.
“I want people to know that we have good teachers that teach you one-on-one. We have [Career Technical Education] where we learn about the ships and everything. A lot of schools don’t have the opportunity to get on ships and learn about the Great Lakes and things like that. We have good activities here, things like a cardboard boat racing. It’s a good school.”
Rick Brown, director of Maritime Studies, runs the CTE program that Winfree holds in such high regard. Although The Maritime Academy of Toledo is one of 16 maritime high schools in the United States, Brown says the Toledo school is the only one of those 16 school programs that give students the credentials to choose from four viable career options upon graduation: work on a commercial vessel immediately upon graduation, use the 30 Owens Community College credits they earn in high school to complete an associate’s degree in just a year, attend a maritime college, or attend a four-year college or university.
Matt Zaleski, marketing coordinator for The Maritime Academy of Toledo, says Toledoans would do well to return to one of the industries that helped it become a leading Great Lakes port city.
“There used to be a time in Toledo where you either went to Willie’s Overland Keiser Jeep and worked automotive, you worked agriculture, or you went to sea,” he said. “The last 20 years, as a community, we have gotten away from pushing people into everything the waterways have to offer. It would be good for these kids.
“If you check with the Bureau of Labor Statistics, they have a prediction that between 2008 and 2018, jobs in the maritime industry are going to increase by an average of 15 percent.”
That history with the waterways is what drew Melaine Hileman, 18, to study at The Maritime Academy of Toledo. Her father, Leroy Hileman, and her brother Ian, were both members of the Coast Guard. Her father, now retired, was stationed in Alaska. Her brother is based in San Francisco.
Melaine Hileman says the ship’s docking in Toledo is a big deal for two reasons.
“One, it’s big, and you don’t normally see ships that big in Toledo,” she said. “And, two, it will give our school good publicity and will bring more people coming here.”
Melaine Hileman is one of two females in this year’s graduating class of 16 students. She plans to study graphic design with an online university after graduation. Melaine says she is looking forward to the ship’s docking in Toledo and meeting with its college student passengers.
“I expect the college students to tell us not to slack off, even in high school, because no one is going to hire a slacker,” she said. “Also, I expect the college kids to say, ‘Keep your dreams up.’ Because without dreams, you don’t have a goal.”
Students who dream big and set realistic goals will enjoy successful careers in the maritime industry, according to John Berck, director of enrollment at the Traverse City college. He says his academy boasts 100 percent job placement.
“Careers in maritime are interesting and worth pursuing because of the current employment environment,” he said. “The average age of a current maritime officer is 58, which means there will be a large number of openings in the next 10-15 years due to retirements.”
The ship is scheduled to depart during the early morning hours, May 26.