Davis Aerospace & Aviation High School Cleveland teaches boat skills with basics

Davis Aerospace and Maritime High School opened with 50 freshmen in August. (Laura Johnston, RocktheLake)

You get in trouble at school when you’re caught staring out the window, right?

Except maybe at Davis Aerospace and Maritime High School, where the fifth-floor windows overlook Burke Lakefront Airport. Especially while Thunderbird pilots – who just spoke to your class – are practicing their stunts.

The Cleveland Metropolitan School District high school, which began in August with 50 freshmen, aims to teach students everything they’d learn in a traditional high school – plus marine biology, aviation technology, manufacturing and more.

Students work with the Port of Cleveland, the Cleveland airport system, Kent State University, U.S. Coast Guard and more. They learn how to fly drones, practice reading maps and make parachutes to drop pumpkins from the balcony.

The goal is to prepare students for college or career.

“We’re a math and science school,” said Principal Tim Jones, who came to Cleveland from a New York City science and math high school. “We thought, let’s not try and find a connection here or there, or an after-school club. Let’s do it with every kid, every day.”

At the beginning of the year, Jones said, many of the students don’t understand the concept of buoyancy. And only 30 percent could swim.

So students take swimming lessons at the YMCA. They make their own boats on 3-D printers and float them down a miniature Cuyahoga, experimenting with marbles for ballast weight. By the end of the year, they plan to build a two-person skiff as a class and paddle it in the real Cuyahoga.

Next year, the school will switch to a year-round schedule and expand to two grades – freshmen and sophomores. Eventually the plan is to have 400 students and outgrow the fifth floor of the district’s Lakeside Administration Building downtown.

“It’s good to have a lot of fresh young minds coming in, willing to ask why or why not,” said Rear Admiral Mark Buzby, the head of the U.S. Maritime Administration. He and other officials visited the school Tuesday, the first day of the annual Great Lakes Waterways Conference in Cleveland.

Educators from other maritime schools around the Great Lakes also met to share ideas.

In Cleveland, Davis is partly a resurrection of the Aviation High School at Burke, which closed in 1996. It’s named after the same Tuskegee Airman, Benjamin O. Davis.

But this school was pitched by Andrew Ferguson, founder of Phastar, a Northeast Ohio aviation non-profit. The company provides the aerospace and marine technology and instruction at the school.  

He’s got big ideas for internships and jobs, including to escort freighters up the Cuyahoga River on a decommissioned U.S. Coast Guard boat.

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