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Maine high school program producing marine techs

Mount Desert Island High School students Josh Willard (left) and Ivan Andros work on repairing a boat Andros found on the side of the road. Ellsworth American photo by Becky Pritchard

Mount Desert Island High School students Josh Willard (left) and Ivan Andros work on repairing a boat Andros found on the side of the road. Ellsworth American photo by Becky Pritchard

Four years ago, Steve Keblinsky answered an ad in his local newspaper looking for a teacher for a marine-service technology program.

“I interviewed, and they gave me the job,” Keblinsky, a former charter captain and boatbuilder, told Trade Only Today. “Mount Desert Island High School, through the demand of the local marine industry, thought it would behoove the area to have this program.”

Keblinksy went back to school to earn a teaching certificate, and the school acquired the American Boat and Yacht Council’s Fundamentals of Marine Service Technology curriculum. In addition to using the ABYC curriculum at the high school, it’s part of the Hancock County Technical Center.

The two-year class is open to high school juniors and seniors throughout Hancock and southern Washington counties in eastern Maine. Students spend two hours of each school day in the program.

“It needs to be a big deal,” Keblinsky said. “It’s hard to find people to fill these spots.”

This is the third year the class has been offered. The first year, there were 10 students, and Keblinsky said the class’ popularity is increasing.

“I get a lot of kids who fish for lobster, and they see the value of going to a class in high school that will help them better understand their boats,” Keblinksy said.

More girls are also getting interested. He said he’s had two who came from fishing families.

Of the students who have completed the program, four have gone to Maine Maritime Academy, two are working locally in the marine industry, and another joined the Coast Guard.

“It’s a good program to spark their interest before they go to MMA or The Landing School,” Keblinsky said. “I know there’s plenty of work to be had. It’s a good direction if you want to work in a boatyard.

“I get kids for whom school might not be their cup of tea,” he added. “I was exactly like these kids when I was a young man. I grew up in upstate New York. I wanted to work on boats. My high school counselor told me to go to a two-year college for business.”

Keblinsky said the program is about 25 percent classroom; the rest is hands-on training. When the students begin the program, they are split into teams of two. Then they strip an engine and rebuild it.

“That’s basically to get them familiar with what’s in their toolbox and which way to turn a wrench,” Keblinsky said. “That’s worked for me. I think it’s important to challenge the kids right off the bat.”

In addition to the technical side, students learn organizational skills, such as keeping track of parts. They also learn how to look up parts and order them from suppliers.

“Sometimes the lesson is as simple as being able to talk to somebody on the phone,” Keblinsky said.

He said getting people past the stigma attached to “tech or vocational” schools remains a challenge.

“When I took this job, I said that’s the stigma I want to break,” Keblinsky said. “Even if you’re going to MMA or college to be a doctor, take a shop class and learn to use your hands. You might not always be working on your boat, but you want to be able to understand it when you’re talking to the mechanic.”

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