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Flushing High School plans to become maritime center

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The administration of Flushing High School is developing a plan to transform the school into a destination for city students interested in business and the maritime industry.

John Lee, the superintendent of Queens High Schools, has approved the plan, and the staff of Flushing HS is currently working on devising a curriculum with the goal of enrolling about 125 students in the program in September 2003.

“You are going to have families in Great Neck trying to get property in New York City to try to get their kids into a school like this,” said Jeffrey Falk, the Flushing HS teacher who envisioned the program.

The plan has already earned the support of many of Flushing’s leaders.

At a Flushing Chamber of Commerce meeting last Thursday, Community Board 7 District Manager Marilyn Bitterman expressed hope for the program.

“Over the year, the police have had problems from the kids from the high school,” Bitterman said. “Hopefully, they’ll be able to turn the school around within the next several years.”

The idea of a maritime program dates back to a recent field trip Falk took with his class.

Falk, a marine biology teacher who has worked at Flushing HS for more than two decades, took about 80 students from the school to the campus of SUNY Maritime College in the Throgs Neck section of the Bronx in April.

He and the students toured the school’s classrooms, its historic 19th century Fort Schuyler and its museum, which is full of replicas of ships designed to train its students.

“When I saw the reaction of the students, their facial expressions, it was like bringing a little kid into a candy store for the first time,” Falk said. “They were so excited.”

After the trip, Falk and the school began discussing a possible partnership between the two institutions.

Founded in 1874 as the New York Nautical School, SUNY Maritime is the only college in the city dedicated to training its students for the maritime industry. The 650 uniformed students at the four-year college are either engineering cadets training to operate the mechanics of ships or deck cadets training to navigate the ship. About 100 of the school’s students are enrolled in the ROTC program on the road to becoming military officers after graduation.

SUNY Maritime, which has seen its admission applications increase by about 60 percent over the last few years, is in the midst of a campaign to increase enrollment, said Kate Cunningham, assistant director of admissions. With a strong demand for workers in the maritime industry, all of its students find jobs within three months of graduation, Cunningham said.

Cunningham said the school hoped the partnership would help boost its own admissions even further since the school has room for 900 students.

“We’re trying to help them, and they’re helping us,” Cunningham said. “It’s coming at such a good time.”

The plan is still in its preliminary stages. The administration at the schools are discussing the possibility of allowing Flushing HS students to take classes at SUNY Maritime or having professors from the college teach at the high school.

Falk envisions the program as being more academically vigorous than the typical course load, with students enrolled in a nine-period day. The program would concentrate on math, science and business classes. Students would also enroll in a water and safety program, using the pool of the Flushing YMCA located across the street from the high school.

In addition to SUNY Maritime, Flushing HS is also exploring links with other schools, such as St. John’s University and the Coast Guard Academy.

While Falk sees the program as starting out with a small percentage of the high school’s student body, he would eventually like to have all Flushing HS students enrolled in the program.

The program may require students to wear uniforms.

“Uniforms are a wonderful thing,” Falk said. “They bring pride to a school, and they can turn a school around.”

Falk said he thought the program well suited the needs of Flushing. With its large immigrant population, many Flushing HS students perform well in math and science but struggle with the English language, and the program would be designed to capitalize on the students’ strengths, Falk said.

“We are in a community that is undergoing a tremendous rebirth,” Falk said. “We want to anchor that community.”

Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 141.

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