Fri., September 13, 2013 3:20pm (EDT)

Tybee Island Opens Public School
By Orlando Montoya
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Updated: 7 months ago

TYBEE ISLAND, Ga.  —  
Jack Marion, 7, attends class at Tybee Island Maritime Academy, the first public school on Tybee Island in 25 years.  It's the first school of any kind on the island since 2010.  (photo Chris Pinder/GPB)
Jack Marion, 7, attends class at Tybee Island Maritime Academy, the first public school on Tybee Island in 25 years. It's the first school of any kind on the island since 2010. (photo Chris Pinder/GPB)
Seven year old Jack Marion is getting ready for school.

Last year, Jack's morning routine involved a 13 mile car ride to a school closer to Savannah.

Today, it's just a short bike ride a few blocks away to the brand new Tybee Island Maritime Academy, the island's first public school in 25 years.

Jack’s father Tyler Marion says the school is making families like his happier to live on the island.

"They don't have to leave home to go to school," Marion says. "They can stay here on the island to go to school.

The Tybee Island Maritime Academy opened in August.

It's housed in a former Catholic school that closed because of low enrollment in 2010.

The last public school on Tybee Island closed as part of a desegregation plan 1988.

Marion says the absence of a school here has made the lack of children stand out.

"School brings life back to the island," Tyler Marion says. "There's youth. There's family.

The community held fund-raisers to help the school get started.

The school is a public charter school.

Organizer Carolyn Jurick says the effort to get it running brought island residents together.

"We have so many people that have retired volunteering out there," Jurick says. "Many young people have come back to the island or are looking for places on the island because we have the school."

The Tybee Island school focuses classes around nautical themes.

At the same time, it teaches the state standards.

Principal Patrick Rossiter says the lessons include shipping, nature and other topics that excite children.

"What a novel way to improve education by making it interesting and exciting instead of 'Son, do you have homework tonight? No.'" Rossiter says.

The school has about 160 students.

About 60 of them live on the island.

The rest of them come mostly from elsewhere in Chatham County.

They're all told to come to class expecting to go barefoot.

That’s for lessons in the sand, one of the benefits of going to school on the beach.

That sand has attracted tourists and retirees for more than a century.

Island Mayor Jason Buelterman says he believes the school will change perceptions of who actually should live here.

"We're obviously a tourism-based economy," Buelterman says. "But we also have a lot of families here and we want to grow that because that's an integral part of any community, having a school."

Three thousand residents and a million annual visitors cross the bridge to Tybee Island.

It's a come and go kind of place.

For families like the Marions, the new school could change that.

It means a slower morning routine but a longer view of their future on the island.