The Compass Project, JMG’s and SMCC’s advanced technology center partner for a unique Maine apprentice programBy Ramona du Houx

April 7th, 2009

The former Times Record newspaper’s building that now houses a Southern Maine Community College extension doesn’t look like much on the outside, but what’s happening inside excites the imaginations of students looking for a new direction in life.

“It’s given me a life,” said Zachary Cain, who is in the Compass Project’s 16-week course in Brunswick. “It has taught me respect, teamwork, and how attitude is important. When I get out I’ll have a fulltime job as a carpenter, and I’ll probably go to college.”

Since January 26, the Compass Youth Apprentice Program, in partnership with Maine’s Advanced Technology Center (MATC), has been teaching eight Morse High School juniors and seniors in the Jobs for Maine Graduates Program how to use composite infusion techniques — by building a 15-foot wooden rowing skiff at the community college’s MATC center.

“Seeing a boat progress makes me feel I’ve — we’ve — accomplished something,” said Morse High School senior Braden Wallace. “It’s practical. Learning math makes sense, if you can use what you’ve learned. I’m a lobster fisherman, and now I can repair my boat.”

Most of the students in this program are from lobster fishing families. Two other students from the program are destined for jobs at a major boatbuilding yard after graduation. Before they signed up for the JMG Compass apprenticeship program, they never would have considered applying.

“During the course we teach students how to write resumes and apply for jobs. They also get the opportunity of visiting boatyards and shadowing professionals in the field. For some of them, a light goes on and they realize they could become professional boat builders, earning high wages,” said Clint Chase, the program manager of the Brunswick Compass Project.

Governor John E. Baldacci celebrated the Compass Project Youth Apprentice Program at an open house with the students and members of the organizations that are involved in the initiative.

“Boat building is a common, consistent denominator in Maine’s history that has transformed with the times. We have tremendous leadership in the industry up and down the coast. Maine has a great brand name around the world, in part, because of our boatbuilding industry. That brand is always associated with the highest quality, pride and craftsmanship. I hear that from people all around the country and all over the world. To see future generations being trained in this industry is wonderful,” said Baldacci. “The students here are excited about going to school with this program, and to me that’s worth its weight in gold.”

Studying the matrix complexities of composites has advanced in recent years, along with the technology. MATC specializes in educating students in this advanced field to help meet a growing need. It is one area of the economy that is destined to grow as a green revolution sweeps the country. These innovation jobs of the future are also high-paying jobs.

Composites can make buildings, boats, bikes, skis, airplanes, and most anything people can imagine stronger, more flexible and more durable. Windmill blades maybe built in Maine from composite materials. Composites have also become safer and more environmentally friendly to work with.

“What’s unique about this Compass Project is the use of composites in contemporary boat building, that can really open up the job market to these students in many different areas,” said Margret Mountcastle an AmeriCorps volunteer.

Jodi Carpenter, also with AmeriCorps, said,” This program really empowers kids. Building a boat at first is a little intimidating, but when the program finishes they step back and are always amazed at what they, as a team, have accomplished. They gain so much confidence and love the problem solving aspects that come up.”

The students enrolled in this specialized course are considered “at risk.” They, for a variety of reasons, don’t respond to regular classroom settings. Jobs for Maine’s Graduates (JMG) works with schools throughout the state in specialized programs, allowing students the opportunity to see the value in community and experiential learning, so they understand that graduating high school will lead to a better future. More than 95 percent of Maine’s JMG students go on to college or obtain jobs after graduating high school. Maine’s JMG has been recognized as a role model for other states, and Governor Baldacci serves as chair.

“JMG gives students alternative approaches for success. If we can give them the tools they need to be successful, then Maine and the nation will be successful. Being involved in the national program with Arnie Duncan, who is now Secretary of Education, has enable me to see the different programs other states have. Secretary Duncan is focused on how they can reverse the high-school dropout rate with a program like JMG,” said the governor. “I’m proud to say that Maine’s JMG program is one of the finest the nation.”

JMG has already recruited and placed fifty at-risk students in the Compass Youth Apprentice Program to date. YAP is in its third year of success, training students.

“I’ve worked with this program in Portland and saw the value of how it engages students. So many students that live in coastal Maine are involved in the marine industry. So there is an immediate impact for these students to get jobs, if they have the skills. This program gives them those advanced skills while in school,” said Craig Laribee, head of Maine’s JMG. “My goal is to see this program expand all the way up the coast of Maine.”

The Compass Project is in its seventh year of working with at-risk youth in the greater Portland area. Since 2002, more than 900 youth from the Greater Portland area, from elementary to high school, have been involved.

“Compass Project boatbuilding classes are a powerful teaching tool that can
help students discover new abilities and interests, opening their eyes to future school and work opportunities,” said Pat Ryan, Compass Project director. “We’re looking forward to a continued partnership with JMG.”