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WNY Maritime Charter teaches Hamburg students leadership skills

Brandon Cruz and Olivia Munn both transferred to Western New York Maritime Charter School from prestigious private schools.
High school senior and Hamburg resident Brandon Cruz knew he wanted to join the military after high school. After spending two years at St. Francis High School, he met a few cadets at a camp he attended from the Western New York Maritime Charter School, and decided that the school might be for him. A few years later, he’s at the top of his class as the senior ranking cadet and battalion commander, and reviewing several different scholarship offers from schools like Ohio State University and Niagara University, as well as waiting to hear from the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.

“I love it here,” he said. “I knew when I first came here, at boot camp, I told my dad, ‘I’m going to do it. I’m going to be the commander.’”

The Western New York Maritime Charter School, a tuition free, public school located in downtown Buffalo, provides an alternative for students interested in the discipline and leadership skills a military structured environment provides, said Commandant of the school, Larry Astyk. Between 10 and 12 percent of graduating students go on to serve in the military, he said, so a commitment to military service is not required to attend the school.

“If you are interested in going into the military, this is the school for you,” he said.

One strength of the school is providing an atmosphere conducive to learning. The results speak to that, Astyk said.

“The kids love it,” he said. “It’s a classroom environment where they can achieve their goals.”

Teachers at the school also enjoy the atmosphere, because it allows them to teach what needs to be taught, with limited interruptions. It’s one reason teacher turnover is almost nonexistent at the school, Astyk said.

Leadership skills are instilled in the students right from the beginning, starting with a week-long “boot camp,” or Basic Leadership Training, that is run by students, over the summer. The idea is to get new students to buy-in to the culture of the school, Astyk said.

“They get a good feel for what we’re about,” he said.

Discipline at the school may be a bit more strict than other schools, Astyk said, but it all plays a role in keeping things optimal for learning.

“There’s time to have fun and we want the kids to relax,” he said, “but there’s also time for business.”

Olivia Munn, a 15-year-old junior from Hamburg who attends the school, has a similar story to Cruz. She skipped eighth grade and entered the Buffalo Seminary Girls School, one of the more prestigious schools in the area. She decided after her freshman and sophomore years that it wasn’t the path for her, and decided to check out the Maritime Charter School after seeing other students in uniform on her bus.

I absolutely love it,” she said. “The school is exceptional in its ability to develop character. Other schools are lacking in that.”

Munn, who also has aspirations to join the military after high school, oversees supplies at the school, as the Supply Officer. She’s the only first-year cadet to ever be an officer at the school, and it comes with a lot of responsibility.

“It’s a huge undertaking,” Astyk said, referring to Munn’s role as Supply Officer. “There are 300 kids growing in and out of their uniforms. It’s a never ending cycle.”

To Munn, it’s an undertaking she enjoys. She also heads up the yearbook committee, as well as several other student groups.

“The more involved you are, the better it is,” she said. “It makes it more interesting, gives you a willingness to comply with the rules.”

For Munn and Cruz, it’s more than just doing well in school and taking part in extra-curricular activities. It’s also about representing the uniform they wear as well as they possibly can.

“The uniform we wear is the same uniform that people have worn and died in,” Cruz said. “You’re representing that as well.”

The school is currently accepting applications and will be holding an open house on Saturday, Feb. 2, from 10 a.m. to noon. For more information, call 842-6289 or visit

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