ROCKLAND, Maine — On Tuesday, Kirt Ilvonen will graduate alongside 114 of his peers at Oceanside High School.
Then on Wednesday, he’ll be back out on the waters of Spruce Head, doing what he does when he’s not in school — lobstering.
“It’s straight fishing,” Ilvonen said. “Putting traps over this weekend and hauling them on Wednesday.”
Ilvonen has been fishing on and off since he was a kid. But when he’s out to haul this summer he’ll have with him the skills he learned as one of the first graduates of Oceanside’s Fisherman’s Academy.
The program is designed for students like Ilvonen, who have had a working relationship with the sea for a majority of their lives and will likely pursue a career in the fishing or maritime industry post graduation.
Oceanside launched the academy as a pilot program in 2016, with seven students enrolling in the elective. The program features a specialized curriculum track that teaches the high school requirements of math, science and social studies — but done with a maritime angle that hopes to further engage the participating students whose interests lie outside the classroom.
“This is such a great opportunity for these kids. They’re learning math, science, woodworking skills, but beyond that they’re learning how to work together as a team, how to solve problems, how to communicate,” Regional School Unit 13 Superintendent John McDonald said.
As part of the program, students have worked at the Apprenticeshop, a Rockland-based organization that offers woodworking and boatbuilding instruction. During their time working with Apprenticeshop staff, the Fisherman’s Academy students have built traditional bent-bow wooden lobster traps, they’ve learned a basic set of woodworking skills and honed their seamanship and navigation skills.
“These are skills that we’ll take with us for the rest of our lives,” Silas Miller, a Fisherman’s Academy student, said.
Miller of Tenants Harbor is a fourth-generation lobsterman. After he graduates next week, he’ll be setting his sights on getting his boat in the water and embarking on another summer of hauling before starting a vocational marine diesel program in the fall.
But Miller will be getting to his boat a little differently this year. This summer he’ll be rowing out to his boat in an approximately 12-foot long wooden Susan Skiff that he built with his fellow Fisherman’s Academy during over the last year and a half at the Apprenticeshop.
The skiff is one of two made by the students that were launched on Thursday to culminate their experience in the Fisherman’s Academy. Another student who intends to pursue lobstering full time after graduation, Garrett Young, received the second skiff.
Of the seven students who enrolled in the academy when it began, five have completed the course, including Miller, Ilvonen, Young, Sebastian Sarmanian and Noah Morse. One student graduated early and another left the program to take other courses for needed credit.
Terry Moore is one of two Apprenticeshop instructors who have been working with the Fisherman’s Academy students. The program track was slated toward students who might not thrive in a traditional classroom setting, but Moore said these students have excelled in the hands-on setting of the Apprenticeshop workshop.
“They come in and they are nice to each other, they joke around, they get to work and they get their stuff done,” Moore said. “It’s an environment that they’re more comfortable in. They’re working with their hands, they’re thinking about the way things work.”
Ilvonen and Miller said the hands-on experience offered to them through the program was a welcome alternative to school — while still technically being in school.
“I’ve enjoyed coming here,” Ilvonen said. “I wish I had another year really.”
RSU 13 administrators are currently working on what exactly the program will look like going forward. McDonald said they are hoping to offer an expanded version of the academy next year that will focus on broader marine industry skills in order to make the program applicable to more students.
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Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the dimensions of the skiff.