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Illinois Grant to Support New Maritime-Focused High School

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn this month announced $730,000 in grants to support local environmental education projects, including one that will help to provide at-risk youth in Chicago the opportunity for education and job training focused on cultivating maritime careers.

In all, the governor announced a dozen grants from the state's Department of Natural Resources. A $57,000 grant to Prologue Inc., a Chicago nonprofit that works with at-risk youth and young adults, is intended to support a non-traditional high school devoted to maritime studies. 

Other grantees include:

  • The Field Museum, for its Expanding Youth Conservation Action in the Millennium Reserve, which will sustain and expand its youth conservation action programming in the Illinois Coast Zone on the South Side of Chicago;
  • Chicago Public Schools, for the district's Calumet Is My Back Yard program, in which high school students work to restore and protect natural areas; and
  • Friends of the Chicago River, for its Think Beyond the Banks campaign, which aims to link river health and education to individuals' every day lives. 

The William Tillman Maritime School, to open next year, will prepare students for future careers in the subject. In addition to getting an education with a strong focus on the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), students will learn practical maritime skills, including small engine repair, marina restoration, and boat weatherization.

The school will be located adjacent to one of Chicago's largest public housing developments.

"We're offering an environmental education, job training, and service learning for low-income, primarily African American young people," Nancy Jackson, the executive director of Prologue, told me in a phone interview.

The school's marina location also allows students to be taught sea-going fitness. In fact, Jackson said successfully passing a swim test will be a graduation requirement.

In their junior and senior years, students will select a career path, choosing between becoming a mariner (responsible for ship navigation), shipbuilding and repair, and port operations. They will then get specialized training in their desired area of study and would have the opportunity to have internships incorporated into their studies.

Additionally, Prologue will look for opportunities for paid work experience for its students.

Jackson said she hopes the students will act as environmental ambassadors for their communities and raise awareness of conservation and sustainable land use—issues particularly important to urban communities.

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