Military and Maritime H.S. breaks ground
16th April 2013 · 0 Comments
By Christopher Tidmore
Four years ago this week, Col Terry Ebert stood in his living room and agreed to help a dream come true.
With the Navy leaving, and the Algiers-Federal City project at risk, Ebert, the City’s Homeland Security Director, agreed to spearhead the creation of a Military and Maritime High School on that site in Algiers that would both serve and anchor the local Marine presence at Federal City–as well as open new educational opportunities for students from around the region.
Today, with 222 students, and over a hundred applicants, the New Orleans Military and Maritime High School entered its third year with a ground breaking on Monday April 8 of a new $17 million dollar facility on the Mississippi River. NOMMA is the nation’s only open enrollment charter high school with a Marine Corps Junior ROTC focus. Though graduates are not required or expected to enroll in the military services, the school utilizes the discipline, problem-solving, communications and self-responsibility culture of the military to build academic success with its students, according to Dr. Cecilia Garcia, principal.
The Type Two Charter School draws students from a ten parish region, with open access admission to any applicant, and boasts of a curriculum that has transformed the lives of many children. These “cadets,” as they are called, have enjoyed some true success stories, as Dr. Garcia explained in an interview with The Louisiana Weekly, “The structure and disciplined environment of NOMMA support a heightened focus on academics. The confidence and motivation I see in the student leaders supports a culture of proud shared ownership.”
“We have a couple of students who were served in special education programs at other schools. Due to the structure and mentoring provided by the JROTC instructors, these students are having success and have advocated for themselves. They no longer receiving services. There are cadets who struggled in parochial schools and due to the academic supports of NOMMA they are now excelling. We offer tutoring during the school day and after school. We have students and parents who frequently comment about the safe environment present in the school.”
Despite its military focus, one need not hail from a military family to attend. NOMMA accepts high school students from throughout metro New Orleans area, offering a college-preparatory curriculum, features a Cyber Innovation Center to build tech skills in its students, and requires participation in the Junior ROTC cadet program. Students are required to wear JROTC uniforms.
NOMMA welcomed its first class of students in 2011. There are currently 222 9th- and 10th-graders in the school, which will build towards all four high school grades by the time the new campus opens. More than 30 percent of the students are female and 75 percent are considered at-risk learners.
The new high school complex, which will include new construction as well as the renovation of existing historical buildings, is expected to be completed in January of 2014. Students currently attend classes in the old Navy Exchange site, just steps away from the new construction. “We look forward to having space for our Ninth Grade Academy,” Garcia noted. “The science labs will have new equipment, a fully operational library is included in the new school, as well as new and additional technology. Since food is always an important component with students, we will change from lunches prepared offsite and delivered to campus to a fully operational kitchen preparing meals in house.”
As Sen. Mary Landrieu observed when she poured the concrete for the cornerstone, “It is my honor to recognize this important milestone in the continued growth of the New Orleans Military and Maritime Academy. The redevelopment of these historic buildings in Federal City will provide state-of-the-art facilities to these young cadets and ensure New Orleans retains a strong military presence for generations to come.”
“In the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, state and local officials have worked to not just rebuild school buildings, but to create the most innovative, state-of-the-art structures where students can thrive,” said Pat Forbes, executive director of the Louisiana Office of Community Development. “The state’s investment of $7.5 million in disaster recovery funds for this Academy will provide students with new buildings in which to study, as well as a new opportunity to succeed in their academic careers and beyond.”
“This groundbreaking is the result of many years of hard work and teamwork, involving many partners,” maintained Col. William Davis, Commandant of NOMMA. “This is a solid step towards the culmination of our mission, providing a high-quality, public charter high school for military families as well as a unique high school option for the public.”
“The Federal City Joint Development Committee, Algiers Development District and Algiers Development Corporation are delighted to have the New Orleans Military and Maritime Academy join our other tenants, residents and businesses at Federal City. This is a win-win for the Federal City team and the Academy,” said Kathy Lynn Honaker, Executive Director, who works with all three entities on the Federal City project.
The new complex lies along the Algiers levee and its new bicycle path currently under construction. It gives direct, off-road access to the Algiers Ferry, a distinct positive, Garcia argued. “Some students currently ride their bikes to school. As we increase enrollment I am sure that will increase making access easier for Eastbank and Westbank students.”
One myth the NOMMA Principal often has to dispel has to do with whether her students are all going to join the military or must come from military families to attend NOMMA. On the former, Garcia maintains that time will tell, but of the later, she noted, “We have yet not surveyed the students for interest in military service but 17 percent of our student population are dependents of military families. We will have a college fair in September next year as we grow to include juniors in our student body.”
The funding for the $17 million construction was provided by Community Development Block Grants and Louisiana Economic Development funds and bonds, leveraged with New Market Tax Credits; and in partnership with the Louisiana Office of Community Development, Federal City Joint Development Committee, Algiers Development District, New Orleans Federal Alliance, Algiers Development Corporation, U.S. Marines Corps and Senator Mary Landrieu.
NOMMA is a member of the Eastbank Collaborative of Charter Schools and the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools.
This article originally published in the April 15, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.