Charting a Course: The PTMA Pathway to Maritime Careers

By Robin Mills, NWM Program Director

Pride, inspiration, and validation. I felt all of it and more tonight at the end-of-the-year celebration for the Port Townsend Maritime Academy (PTMA), our maritime Career and Tech Education (CTE) program. Northwest Maritime developed PTMA in 2018 in partnership with Port Townsend School District and Bremerton’s West Sound Technical Skills Center. Next year, two graduates will be attending the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding, one will be fishing in Alaska, and two will work locally in our vibrant marine trades community. One junior is working as a Dock Attendant in our summer program with the Port of Port Townsend. We often say that the sea is the most powerful teacher we know, and tonight these young people showed that in their smiles and the pride they felt in sharing their stories. 

The Port Townsend Maritime Academy is the culmination of a series of Northwest Maritime’s programs for young people. We start by introducing our youngest sailors, aged 5 to 8, to the sea. As they grow, they advance through our series of summer programs, ultimately reaching the Maritime Discovery Program in 7th grade. This capstone experience involves nearly all 7th graders from the Port Townsend, Chimacum, and Quilcene school districts, providing hands-on maritime education during their middle school year. Then, those who are most interested in maritime join us for after-school programs, expeditions, and, in the case of these students, high school! One of tonight’s graduates began taking programs with us as a 5-year-old, progressed through multiple programs over the years, and tonight became a PTMA graduate. He will be attending the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding in the fall. What an amazing progression!

This student’s experience exemplifies a pathway of experiences and maritime-focused learning that has been at the heart of our programming for many years. Now, we are working to expand our efforts regionally, under the banner of the Blue Schools Initiative. We are coalescing our career-connected curricula around vessel operations/maritime skills, marine construction and trades, and marine science & restoration.  All of it is an example of how we are embracing the state’s effort for students to have pathways to great careers. We aim to have 100% of students participate in Career Explore or Career Prep programs and 60% in Career Launch programs, all by the class of 2030.  

Our programs in Port Townsend and those at the Maritime High School in Des Moines, WA, have been the laboratories for developing that pathway progression. They build upon themselves at each stage, connecting students to experiences on the water, in the water, and near the water. They build networks of opportunities for students who are inspired to pursue a maritime career with local and regional employers. Some may do this through post-secondary training such as college or maritime academies, some may choose training programs and some may opt for direct to employment. Each student gets to choose their own adventure!

Northwest Maritime provides all of its students with transformative maritime experiences. As I watched the PTMA students graduate from the program, it was obvious tonight that the PTMA has had a direct impact on the choices and opportunities these students have as they leave the program. While some of these students have been with us for many years, and others were new this year, they all know that Northwest Maritime is part of their network of support and available to support them. 

Next year, there will be a record 22 students enrolled in PTMA from across multiple school districts—including Port Townsend, Chimacum, North Kitsap, and Bremerton. The fact that so many students have selected this program next fall is further validation that we are doing something right. We are so excited to meet the new class and for Port Townsend to continue to be a home base for developing maritime talent!

Thank you to Senator Maria Cantwell for including our Blue Schools Initiative in her 2025 appropriation request!