How many schools have a Half Century Alumni Club? In South Florida, most aren’t old enough. Fort Lauderdale High School is one of the exceptions. It’s been turning out graduates since 1915. The Home of the Flying L’s is 103 years old, loaded with tradition, but not locked in the past.
It has the Cambridge magnet program, which includes innovative courses designed to spark intellectual curiosity. The principal says the ethos of the Cambridge program has spread throughout all the academic classes in the school.
“We don’t want them just to get a grade, we want them to want to learn, to know not the answer to every question, but what’s the right question to ask,” said Principal Priscilla Ribeiro, explaining her educational philosophy.
Students certainly learn those skills in the debate club, which is one of the county’s best. There’s perhaps no better example of Ribeiro’s philosophy in action than what we saw in the law studies magnet program. The school has a built-in courtroom that looks every bit like the real thing. Students use it to stage mock trials, and they learn all facets of the criminal justice system.
“They learn the actual federal rules of evidence, they learn proper procedure, they learn pre-trial motions,” said Dan Katz, a former attorney who now teaches the law class. “So you get to learn all about the legal field but it’s not just about the law, it’s also about any of our public services.”
Speaking of public service, Fort Lauderdale High has an extensive firefighter training program. It prepares students for potential careers saving lives, either as first responders or as doctors, nurses, and technicians in the health care field. So the school combines academic rigor with career training for kids who want it.
They’ve got a culinary program run by a Ritz-Carlton veteran. Of course, it’s farm to table, keeping up with the latest trend. Students grow their own veggies and herbs and then use them in the kitchen. They’re building up their resumes to work in Florida’s largest industry, the service economy.
“Not only do they learn how to cook but they can also become very competitive in the marketplace in the food service industry, whether it’s culinary or even hospitality,” said Chef Jerry Guajardo, who runs the culinary program.
It could be said that Fort Lauderdale High School is creating a new tradition: producing graduates ready for anything, for any career path.