By Jason Schwinger
Hidden in plain sight, on the edge of downtown, sits one of Buffalo’s premiere Charter
Schools. On Genesee Street, two blocks from the Electric Tower, the Western New
York Maritime Charter School is quite literally, as polished an example of a
school as the cadet’s shoes marching within.
“We are not a ‘military school’,” states Principal Lawrence Astyk, retired U.S.
Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel, who presides over the gleaming 3-storey
building and the students and staff within.As a Navy Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) program, the Maritime Charter School tightly adheres to military foundations of
character, principle and leadership, but as Lt. Col. Astyk points out, “The
cadets are happy to be here. They are proud to have the structure that the
program demands and provides.”This statement is corroborated through speaking to the cadets.
Founded four years ago nearby at St. John’s on Michigan Street, the school quickly
moved into the Genesee Street building and ramped up to its self-imposed
maximum of 325 cadets (students). At a nearly
50-50 Male-Female ratio, the appeal of the school, its programs and mission to
“develop the mind, body, and character…to be effective leaders and
responsible citizens” has a wide and diverse appeal to prospective cadets
and their parents. So much so,
that the School has a waiting list for each grade, from 9 to 12.
than the obvious rank & file structure and cleanly pressed uniforms, the
academic curriculum only hints at the school’s underlying military
foundations. In addition to a
usual high-school course load, Maritime Charter infuses its program with a
separate period each day devoted to military principles. For example, on Wednesdays, cadets have
an inspection, during which uniforms, hygiene, grooming and other tenets of
outward personal presentation and respect are critiqued. Unlike the
contemptuous attitude derived from adhering to a typical private-school
dress-code, the cadets at Maritime are proud of their uniform, and choose to
accessorize with ribbons and medals earned through accomplishment, service and
Tuesdays and Thursdays, cadets find themselves in a Naval Science course.This specific program along with an
elective program deemed STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math), offered at
Buffalo State College, plays a strong role in encouraging many cadets to pursue
math and science degrees upon graduation from Maritime Charter.The STEM program and the seafaring undercurrentof the school have lead
to very unique annual projects, in which cadets design blueprints of vessels
(from scratch!) and proceed to model, test, and develop them until they have
fully built a water-going boat by the end of the program. Rounding out the week is physical
training, as a disciplined mind is only as good as the disciplined body.
keeping with the ‘Maritime’ tradition, a large percentage of cadets voluntarily
come to Leadership Training in the summer before beginning school.This “mini boot camp” introduces the
cadets to the school’s foundations and to each other. One perk of spending a
summer in boot camp is the sailing instruction given by ASA Captain Pierre
Wallinder, of the Ship Ahoy Sailing School.Many cadets become certified sailors as part of attending
Maritime Charter School boasts a full-time staff of 48 certified teachers and 3
AmeriCorps Volunteers who tutor cadets during and after school.One staff-member, Gina Castellanos, is
a former AmeriCorps Volunteer at Maritime. Since graduating with a Masters degree in Cancer
Pharmacology, she has returned to the school to work in what she describes as “a
great environment with exceptional students excited to succeed.”
cadet with numerous successes–evidenced by the sheer number of ribbons and
medals adoring his uniform–is Senior Cadet Sterling South. Sr. Cadet South had
just returned from Forest Lawn Cemetery where he lead cadets in laying out (and
the subsequent removal of) hundreds of flags on Veteran’s Day weekend.South is also Maritime’s Drill Team
Commander and was visibly enthusiastic about his pending Navy ROTC scholarship
to SUNY Brockport, “I’m probably going to study accounting or law. Maybe I’ll
be a teacher.”The value of
education is not lost on cadets here. South says, “Being in ROTC is worth $100 thousand dollars!”
on Veteran’s Day is just an example of one weekend’s community involvement.
Cadets literally spend hundreds of hours volunteering and helping all over the
city. Neighboring Pinnacle
Elementary School sees a constant stream of cadets reading with kids and
participating in that school’s many day programs. Businesses in the city love to see the cadets as well.
Maritime Charter School sees cadets intern and garner mentors at a number of
area law firms, in city hall, and even the nearby MRI facility. The hard work pays off with rewards
including frequent trips to Washington DC–the Smithsonian, Pentagon and Capital
being obvious favorite places for cadets.
Maritime Charter School may in fact be a military school, but more than
anything its mission is to be a training ground for successful leaders, whether
cadets pursue military or civilian careers after graduation.