At Maritime Academy Charter High School, the windows are called portholes. The floor is a deck; the bathrooms are heads; the students are cadets and they are treated accordingly. It’s only fitting that the school is now located in Port Richmond.
The charter’s high school students moved into the former Stephen A. Douglas High School building, 2700 E. Huntingdon St., this school year. Douglas closed in June 2013 in the largest mass public school closing in the city’s history.
When the charter moved in on July 15, school officials got right to work fixing up the 86-year-old building.
“Our lease started at 9 a.m., and we had a painting crew in here at 11 a.m.,” said Edward Poznek, principal and chief executive officer of the school. “We put 100 gallons of paint in this building.”
The building was ready for the 289 cadets to start classes on Sept. 4, and for the first time, they have a real cafeteria and a gymnasium.
The 55,000 square-foot building gives the cadets more room for extracurriculars, such as chess club, cooking club, dance club and a recently created drama club.
There’s also a computer lab with 30 brand-new Mac computers. (The 530 middle school students are still at the charter school’s other location at 2275 Bridge St., which has no gym and only a makeshift cafeteria.)
Maritime concepts are woven throughout the curriculum.
“What we do is inculcate the maritime theme throughout a regular curriculum,” said Poznek, a former Naval officer. “Instead of Jack and the Beanstalk, we might read about piracy on the high seas.”
There’s a small-engine repair class, where cadets can tear apart and rebuild an internal combustion engine, and a class on maritime engineering, but there’s also an entrepreneurship class and stunning charcoal self-portraits hanging on the walls.
So why the maritime theme?
Because Philadelphia is one of the largest ports in the world, says Eugene Mattioni, the chairman of the school board. 3,000 ships pass through our city each year, he said; Aker Philadelphia Shipyard, located at the Navy Yard, is the second largest commercial shipyard in the country. There are many well-paying jobs in the industry, said Mattioni, who works as a maritime lawyer.
School officials are working to connect students with maritime careers, Poznek said. Professionals in the maritime industry give lectures about their careers and host field trips to places like Aker, where students can see a 500-foot ship being built.
Maritime’s graduation rate last year was 65 percent, compared to the Philadelphia school district’s 55 percent, according to the state Department of Education’s school report cards. The school met the Adequate Yearly Progress benchmarks required by the No Child Left Behind Act for the 2012 school year, but received a warning in 2011, according to state records.
The charter school, which is leasing the building from the Philadelphia School District, made an offer to purchase the building from the district in December, Poznek said, and is expecting to hear by March whether the deal will go through.
A district spokeswoman declined to comment on a possible deal, citing confidentiality concerns.
Several neighbors said they were glad the property wasn’t sitting empty.
“Everybody’s happy they’re there,” said Michele Gonzalez, 42, who lives near the school. “I’m just glad they did something with the building.”
Multiple neighbors said the Maritime students were better behaved than the students who attended Douglas when it occupied the building, and one man who lives across the street said the principal introduced himself and asked if he had any concerns.
Thomson Liang, 24, who lives right across the street, said the combination of school bus traffic and loud teenagers can be annoying, but still prefers the school to a giant vacant building.
(Another Port Richmond school building, the former Nativity B.V.M. School, which has been vacant since 2008, has become a target for burglary, theft and vandalism.)
While Donell Whitmore, Sr., 51, of Northeast Philadelphia, waited to pick up his daughter, a ninth-grader, from school on Wednesday afternoon, he said the rigorous academics drew his family to the school.
“The curriculum is demanding,” he said. “The teachers have high standards and expect the children to keep up with those standards.”
Whitmore, who served in both the Army and the Navy, said his daughter wants to be a pediatrician, and even though she gets “tons of homework,” her grades have risen.
“To the teachers here, it’s more than just a job,” he said. “They push these children to excel.”
In this new building, the teachers have all the more room to do so.
“Moving here is the best thing that ever happened to our high school,” Poznek said.