The three R's – reading, writing and arithmetic – aren't all that's taught at one high school in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Marine industry skills, everything from learning how to sail to rebuilding a diesel engine, has been in the curriculum for nearly two years at the Ivanna Eudora Kean High School on St. Thomas. Ironically, the teacher leading the class didn't step foot aboard a sailboat until he moved to the territory in 1998. The marine side of life, however, is something that teacher, Stan Lorbach, has quickly immersed himself in and his students too.
Born in Florida, Lorbach grew up in South Carolina in the land-locked foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. He earned a degree in biochemistry and started conducting post-doctoral research in New Orleans.
"This was the time I was to establish my name in research, but it's when I realized that I really wanted to be a teacher," he says.
Lorbach completed his research and took a year off to assemble his resume in order to apply for teaching positions. Meanwhile, he worked repairing bikes at a bicycle shop.
"A woman came into the shop one day," he says. "She lived on St. Thomas, and she and her husband ran a bike tour company. I told her if she ever needed a tour guide or mechanic to give me a call. She did, and I moved to St. Thomas."
Lorbach's new employers helped him to get established. They referred him to the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI), where ultimately he was hired and worked as a professor of microbiology and molecular biology for seven years, also they took him sailing.
"The first time I went sailing I loved it," he says. "I thought it was fantastic."
Lorbach loved the nautical life so much that he purchased a Pearson 365 ketch. He's lived-aboard, on a mooring off Water Island's Honeymoon Bay, ever since.
"Living on the boat taught me many things," he says. "One was how to sail without an engine. It quit working just after I bought the boat, so I had to take it out and eventually rebuilt it. In the meantime, I always made sure to have able bodied people on board when we went out sailing. I'd take students out with me. We'd go to Foxy's for New Year's or on a week's sail around the British Virgin Islands."
Two years before Lorbach left his teaching post at UVI, he knew that he wanted to somehow teach Virgin Islands' students how to sail and other marine skills. To this end, he furthered his own education by working with veteran sail maker, Manfred Dittrich. During this time, he started racing on the sailboat of friend, Paul Davis, who would compete annually in regattas in St. Croix, Puerto Rico, St. Thomas and the British Virgin Islands. It was Davis, a member of the Marine Action Group (MAG), who recommended Lorbach for the pos-ition of Marine Ind-ustries instructor at the Ivanna Eudora Kean High School. Davis had previously donated his Cal 30.3, Winds Glory, to the program, and well-known sailor, Chris Currier, has started the course. Lorbach was interviewed by MAG leaders and was immediately tapped for the teaching position.
"The first semester I taught, in the spring of 2009, we had engine problems on Winds Glory and as a class took the engine out and repaired it," he says. "Basically, since the boat is 40-years old, if something breaks, it becomes a lesson. The students, primarily juniors and seniors, have also completely rebuilt and re-bedded the stanchions. We've also completely repaired the boat after taking a big wave in the around St. John race that ripped a four-foot hole in the boat and separated the deck from the hull."
Students have sailed the last two years in the International Rolex Regatta.
This fall, Lorbach has arranged for a professional aircraft mechanic to teach the students diesel engine repair. In the future, he hopes to get the students started on the construction of 15 Â½-foot sloops called Windmills that would allow them to hands-on sail in the fall while Winds Glory is in the yard for hurricane season.
"The Department of Education has furnished all the tools necessary to for the students to build the boats," says Lorbach. "Now, we are looking for a funding source to get the marine plywood from off island."
"Ultimately," says Lorbach, who is constantly evolving the program and gaining an ever-growing classroom of interested students along the way, "my goal is trade-oriented classes where the students can gain the skills that will enable them to get good paying jobs in the marine industry."
Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.