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The last Discover Duval Schools tour of 2014

On December 15, I attended the Discover Duval Schools tour of Joseph Stilwell Military Academy of Leadership with nearly two dozen community members. Having recently relocated to Jacksonville, I was excited to learn more about the various educational opportunities in Jacksonville in an interactive way. I have lived in several different states, all with distinctly different education systems that have their own unique pros and cons. With that being said, I was instantly struck by what an incredible opportunity Discover Duval Schools provides for parents and members of the community. I can say with assurance that the level of transparency and efforts to engage the community through events like the Discover Duval Schools tours are far superior to what I have seen in other parts of the country.

When I arrived at the school and entered the library, I was surprised to see an expansive model of a civil war battle displayed prominently in the center of the room. Principal Bloom later told us it was on loan from a civil war museum and would be used as part of history discussions about the civil war to give students an accurate depiction of the historic battle. As a history buff, I couldn't help but spend a few moments admiring the painstaking details the model included. If this was a precursor to the types of active learning and engagement methods used at Stilwell, I was eager to see more!

DDS Stilwell

After a brief overview from Principal Bloom about the Joseph Stilwell Military Leadership Academy, he presented a panel of sixth, seventh and eighth grade cadets (that is what the students go by as part rules outline in the military academy handbook) to tell us more about their experiences at Stilwell. Honorable Becki Couch, School Board member  of District 6 was also on the panel. 

                  DDS Stilwell 1        DDS Stilwell 2

The children each emphasized that their leadership classes were helping them become better people in and outside of school. They credited the leadership classes with teaching them discipline, mutual respect, and helping them find their "true north." It was so encouraging to hear each child explain the positive difference that more structure and higher expectations have made in their lives. Check out more photos of the school tour!

Following the panel, participants split into two groups for a tour. We saw children in each classroom literally getting their hands dirty as they performed experiments, tackled group activities that focused on critical thinking, and utilized their problem solving skills interactive activities. I was impressed with the level of engagement in each classroom; the vast majority of the children were eager to participate and take part in the group activities. And for those who were disengaged, the teachers were quick to direct questions their way and make sure they were participating.

After the tour, Principal Bloom shared his goals for the future of Stilwell with us and the impact the new magnet program has had on the students thus far. The behavioral and educational impact the military academy has made in the lives of children seems immense after hearing about the differences from the past school year to now. I left Stilwell excited by the promise of Jacksonville's youth and eager to see more! I strongly encourage everyone to participate in a Discover Duval Schools tour, as it was an incredibly motivating experience.

Sign up for the next Discover Duval Schools tour:

> Wednesday, January 14 - North Shore Elementary from 8:30 a.m. to 10:30  a.m.

Focus: Academy of Math, Science, Technology with a concentration in health/nutrition and fitness.


Visit www.jaxpef.org/discoverduvalschools to register for more school tours in the new year. 

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Lauren Gutschlag