A high school on the harbor: tying knots, building boats, getting ahead

If you've got a rope keep it handy. It is not every day we get to sit in with a teacher of the year specializing in maritime skills. Actually, never, this is a first for us.

What Brendan Malone was teaching on this day at the Urban Assembly New York Harbor School on Governors Island is the bowline knot, called the king of knots since it is used to hold even the largest of ships in place. He even makes students practice behind their back, on one foot.

And why is this the king of knots? Because it is easy to tie and untie and will never get jammed up no matter how much pressure you out on it, Malone said.

Speaking of pressure. Malone was recently one of 700 teachers up for a teaching excellence award. Last month, he won the Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize. It comes with a $100,000 check for Malone and the school to share. Neither his students nor the principal were surprised he received the top honor and they were equally elated.

Principal Jeffrey Chetirko said Malone really cares about each individual student. In fact, during lunchtime many of his students will remain with him.

Malone's attention to students has translated into some phenomenal work. Two boats, a wooden one and a motor boat, are at the Governors Island docks. Malone's students built both boats from scratch. The wooden one is from a 1920s blueprint.

Malone's mentors taught him he can tackle anything, which he did. He started his own business and passed on that lesson onto his students for 18 years. He said a saying goes "If you can build a boat, you can do anything."

What this school is doing represents a shift in education. Vocational education used to be about putting students in the workplace after high school. But 95 percent of the kids at Harbor School are accepted to college.