‘The Metlakatla Master Dive Program: Gaining Skills for the Local Harvest Industry’ by ACSA Staff

Photo Credit Leslie Johnson

In 2006, former Annette Island School District Superintendent Brett Agenbroad had a vision to offer Metlakatla High School students an opportunity to gain industry experience in diving by providing a scuba program.

Current Superintendent and former CTE Teacher Taw Lindsey said Agenbroad “saw a need to help provide safe training for divers to participate in the local dive harvest industry.” Lindsey shared that there is a significant need for dive harvest of sea cucumber and geoduck clams in the region for the local tribe and state harvests.

Seeing the local need for trained and experienced divers, Agenbroad and Lindsey began developing a CTE course at the school to prepare students with the opportunity to join the local dive harvest industry.

The Metlakatla High School Scuba Shop – Photo Credit Taw Lindsey

The school district used Carl Perkins Grant Funding to start the program and hired a dive instructor from the Oregon Coast Aquarium to teach the program for the first two years and train Lindsey to teach the class while he became a certified instructor.

The vision to safely train divers for the local community has succeeded. Since offering the program to students, Lindsey said the school has brought a steady stream of local divers into the community, with 10-15 students participating annually.

The school has a dive shop in the CTE building, built in 2017. The scuba shop has a compressor, and 15 sets of gear for students, making the program self-sufficient. Lindsey said the district is thankful for a partnership with Wind and Water Charters in Ketchikan, which performs all the safety inspections on their equipment and provides technical advice.

Photo Credit Leslie Johnson

The diving program at Metlakatla High School is offered to all students starting their freshman year. Lindsey shared that the longer students participate in the program, the more skills they will build. In the semester-long courses, students work toward open water diving, advanced diving, and rescue diving certification. Lindsey said it typically takes two years for students to receive their rescue diving certification. However, once certified, they can apply for a commercial dive permit, which allows them to dive locally.

Metlakatla students also have the opportunity to receive six specialty dive certifications, including navigation, deep diving, night diving, dry suit, boat diving, and peak performance buoyancy.

Students who participate through four years of high school have the opportunity to Master Diver and Dive Master Certifications upon graduation. Dive Master is an entry-level professional certification. With this certification level, students can work at local dive shops, assist at the school, and work in the recreational dive industry locally and in the lower 48. “It opens up many possibilities for employment,” Lindsey said.

Photo Credit Leslie Johnson

Students who complete this Master Diver program are honored at graduation and wear a red rope to recognize their accomplishments. Since the program began, eight students have achieved the Dive Master Certification upon graduation.

Even if students don’t receive this level of certification, they still receive a lot of life skills from participating. Lindsey said, “We are able to integrate technical reading, technical math, technical writing, and science.” He added, “It’s a program that the kids can use all of their academic skills to help them make sense of the curriculum.”

Photo Credit Leslie Johnson

In 2019, Lindsey became the Superintendent of Annette Island School District and handed over the reins to Mark McCarty to lead the program once he received his certification in 2020. Lindsey still assists with the program and applies for the Carl Perkins Grant each year to keep the program funded.

Lindsey said they plan to continue to grow the dive program at Metlakatla High School, with plans to include mariculture in the program for local kelp cultivation and harvesting.