After 110 years, Dillard High School has earned its "pillar of the community" status in Fort Lauderdale. But alumni from the early days, or even from 20 years ago, wouldn't recognize the place now.
For one thing, Dillard is now a 6-12, merged with a middle school. It also has magnets in performing and visual arts, digital entrepreneurship, and computer technologies, and it also has the Cambridge program.
"But what really makes it great is we excel in academics, art, technology and athletics," said Casandra Robinson, the school's principal. "We care about your students, we care about kids, we care about the community, and so I actually bring my own kid here because I value what we do here at Dillard high school, we're a family school."
Dillard's music program has a national reputation for excellence. The marching band routinely earns the highest grades in competitions, and the jazz band is regarded by many as the best in Florida, year in and year out.
"The music is what people see on the outside, people don't realize that the notes and the rhythms are easy but the music is a conduit for mentorship, so we learn love, respect, discipline and all those kind of things," said Sheldon McLean, band director.
Under the direction of Christopher Dorsey, the jazz band just got back from a trip to New York and they are performing in Chicago later this month. In recent years they have played in Europe and at the White House. It's part of what makes Dillard exceptional.
The school's robotics team is nationally ranked, the football team is currently undefeated, and the girls basketball team is a perennial state champion contender.
Dillard also has a program unique to any school in South Florida. It's an arrangement with Florida Blue called the Partnership for Education and Business Success. Kids in the program are trained and hired by Florida Blue to process insurance claims, real claims for a real paycheck while they're at school.
The program prepares them for college or the workforce.
"We want the kids to see the value of the program and to get something out of it, we don't want it to just be a job and not look to the future," said teacher Maryland Patterson-Hankerson.
Because Dillard is a six-through-twelve it means middle school kids can sometimes interact with their high school colleagues, especially in classes such as digital entrepreneurship, a magnet program which provides mentorship opportunities.
"But also those students get to take high school courses, for example, some of our middle school students are so advanced that they're actually sitting in algebra 2 or some other rigorous high school course that they can't get at a traditional middle school," Robinson said.
So whether the kids are pitching their business ideas in the entrepreneurship program or cheering for the Panthers on the state runner-up cheerleading squad, Dillard students have a ton of choices.
Something for every interest.