Dillard High School is all about the cutting edge. Whether it's digital art and design or robotics or a theatre program which produces the latest Broadway musicals, the historic school in Fort Lauderdale appreciates its past, but is more focused on blazing a new trail to the future.
"We do have a motto here at Dillard High School, it's invent, achieve, create, and discover, and we do those things through our STEAM program," said Casandra Robinson, Dillard's principal.
STEAM means science, technology, engineering, arts, and math. Dillard has been living STEAM for 38 years, since it debuted its magnet programs in Performing Arts and Technology. The robotics team is perennially among South Florida's best, part of the Tech magnet which also includes computer programming, digital arts, and video game design.
"Naturally, computer science kids might come here in ninth grade and be a little shy, but when they have an environment of people just like them, they actually blossom and they're the cool kids," explained Jessica Swanson, the tech magnet coordinator.
Dillard has always been a sports powerhouse. This year its girls' basketball team won the state championship, as did the cheerleading squad. The school has received just as much attention and accolades, though, for its performing arts groups. The jazz band is one of the best in the nation, having just last week competed at a prestigious gathering sponsored by Winton Marsalis. The theatre company is the first high school group to perform "Bring it On," a Broadway musical. The show incorporates the school's cheerleaders and dance team.
"When you're here in the magnet program you have a level of want for the arts like nobody else," said theatre director Angela Thomas. "I want to give them what they want and they want lots of programming and cutting edge, what's happening on Broadway."
The performing arts program draws students from all over Broward County, for a reason, says Israel Charles, the magnet coordinator.
"If your child has the passion, if they wake up in the morning dreaming about being that next superstar recording artist or the next great dancer or visual artist or actor, this is the place to be. We really specialize in preparing students for the next level experience," Charles said.
Dillard High is also unique because it includes middle schoolers now. Grades six through eight from the old Arthur Ashe Middle, which closed, are on the high school campus, and that presents high school students with mentorship opportunities which they take advantage of. The middle school also has its own magnet program in digital entrepreneurship.
There's a lot to brag about, and a lot to be proud of for Dillard's alumni.
"The community loves this school, the alumni really supports the school and the pride we have here is contagious," said Robinson.