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Dunbar High School: Academy for Technical Excellence

Follow the story of Dunbar High School in Fort Myers, Florida as it emerges from an era of desegregation and evolves into a first-class institution that provides students with rich opportunities to excel in STEM fields.

This story was submitted by Denise Spence, IT Programs Manager and Lead Technology Teacher at Dunbar High School. 

In 1926, Dunbar High School was constructed on what is now High Street. It was named for the poet, Paul Laurence Dunbar. The construction of this school, along with the adjacent Williams Primary, provided K-12 educational opportunities for neighborhood minority children. This Dunbar High School graduated its last class of students in 1962.

In 1962, students moved to a new school on Edison Avenue which was named Dunbar Senior High School. Graduates emerged from the halls of this school from 1962 through 1969. In 1969, this school was closed due to a desegregation order, which forced high school aged minority students from the Dunbar community into other high schools throughout Lee County. The school reopened again as Paul Laurence Dunbar Middle School, until the new middle school facility was erected. Paul Laurence Dunbar Middle School moved to its new location, on Winkler Avenue Extension, just south of Colonial Boulevard.

Then in the fall of 2000, Dunbar High School was reopened to high school age students. Initially, opening with 9th graders and then adding a new grade level each year, Dunbar High School continued to draw a high percentage of minority students to its location with a high percentage of free/reduce lunch students. By 2005, Dunbar High School’s minority to majority ratio was incongruent to the demographics of the district. Therefore, something had to be done to help eliminate minority isolation in the district. Dunbar High School (DHS) needed to develop a unique attractor program that would assist in the prevention of minority group isolation and attract a diverse student population to the school. As technology continues to be an inherent societal need for all, DHS recognized a need to provide high-end technology training.

In 2003-2004, a $3.3 million federally funded Magnet School Assistance Program Grant provided DHS with the chance to start the Academy for Technology Excellence (ATE) program. The process for reducing/eliminating isolation of minority subgroups was simple in its design. Our solution: create a program that would focus on a rigorous curriculum, leading to industry certification that would enticed a diverse and motivated student body that would want to come to a school that contains a high percentage of minority subgroups.

The Academy for Technology Excellence (ATE) program was uniquely designed to provide 9th-12th grade students with the training needed to get over 14 most in-demand industry standard IT certifications from industry icons like Microsoft, Cisco, CompTIA, & Adobe. ATE prepares students for advanced information technology careers. Honors weighted credit and dual enrollment credit are also offered to attract students interested in college. Our district supported the design and insured that all zoned students were aware of the program. The district opened the opportunity up to South and East zoned schools. As long as the student was in the correct zone for school choice, then all that they needed to do was to fill out an application of interest to be enrolled.

The ATE program has truly enabled students to cross the digital divide and focus on essential skills to make them more marketable for their future. ATE empowers all students with hands-on authentic learning experiences, while certify them in information technology (IT) systems. ATE graduates have a competitive edge over other college-bound students and can graduate with the earning potential of $35,000-$50,000/year. Several of our ATE students have received employment right out of high school. Nicole Caron, a graduate at age 18, received employment with AT&T making $30,000/year. Another graduate, Tyrone Morgan, at 18, gained employment with Chico’s Headquarters making $40,000/year. (Both credited this to the ATE program with their success.)

Since the start of the ATE program in 2005, there is a definite demographic shift within the ATE program with regard to the percentage of minority and free/reduced lunch students. The ATE program reflects only 40% of its students on free/reduced lunch with the district average being 54%. A 14% significant difference to the District’s in regard to free/reduce. The district, as a whole minority percentage is at 49%, while the ATE program started at a 23% difference from the district it has shown a distinct trend towards our District’s % enrollment. Currently, at a 14% difference from the district, the ATE program reflects progress towards desegregation and equity goals that it set out to accomplish.

In 2006, the Academy program establish a local business advisory group whose purpose is to build awareness, analyze IT trends, facilitate growth and solicit support for sustainability of the ATE program. ATE has partnered with Microsoft, Entech, 1st Community Bank of SWFL, with various local IT businesses and with local colleges and universities. In 2006-2007, the Academy for Technology Excellence program received the attention of Microsoft and was selected by Microsoft to be the 1st Microsoft certified high school in the nation. In fact, as we moved into our 3rd year of the program Microsoft took notice of all the certifications our students were achieving and was amazed. They decided to partner with us and named our school the 1st Microsoft Certified High School in the Nation. They declared our students as their “Certifying Heroes”. They will be using our program as a pilot program to be mirrored at other high schools throughout the United States and beyond. As a significant part of this partnership, they produced a video of our program found on our website ( As a result, we are able to continue to offer the lasts IT certifications to high school students.

In June of 2008, the initial grant funds were exhausted . The state of Florida was developing an initiative that requires all technical and career education courses lead to certification. In August 2009, Dunbar added a new technology program, the Academy for Digital Excellence. The Academy for Digital Excellence program offers Web Design, Digital Design & TV Production courses that engage students in the digital arts Students will gain hands-on experiences that will lead to the design industry standard Adobe IT certifications in Photoshop, Dreamweaver, Flash, & Premiere Pro. Courses you can take include Web Design, Digital Design, and TV Production. We have a full blown TV production studio complete with sound booth, studio cameras, and green screen. Production editing software – Adobe Premiere Pro and Adobe Sound Booth In August 2010, Dunbar added the Academy for Game Design and Programming Excellence. In the Academy for Game Design and Programming Excellence offers students the ability to understand the fundamental principles of game and simulation concepts in a project based course environment. Students will learn game and animation design principles, coding languages, and more. Our instructors are dedicated in using industry standard software and tools to gain students these amazing key skills. Students enrolled in the game design program will gain the skills necessary to receive Microsoft Office Specialist, 3D Studio Max certifications, as well as, Adobe Flash, Illustrator, and Photoshop credentials. Game Design and programming uses a variety of hardware and software tools in order for students to find a medium that best suits their need to create 2-D to 3-D games. Tools students use to get the job done are:


  • Wacom pen tablets
  • Microsoft Kinect for Motion Capture
  • Microsoft Xbox
  • 64bit pc’s with 21 inch monitors


  • Game Factory for foundational practice purposes
  • Adobe Suite – Premiere Pro, Photoshop, Flash and Illustrator
  • Unity 3-D, Autodesk 3Ds Max, Motion Builder, Mud Box
  • Various Freeware like Alice, Greenfoot, and Eclipse
  • Microsoft Visual Studio

In August 2011, Dunbar added the Academy for Engineering Excellence and the Academy for Biomedical Excellence. These are programs that are part of the Project Lead the Way college preparatory program. The Engineering curriculum is designed to encourage students to choose engineering and related disciplines in college. The program consists of a minimum of four courses that are taken along with college prep math and science courses. PLTW has relationships with more than 100 colleges and universities. Of these, 36 offer credit for completion of select PLTW courses. The foundation courses are: Introduction to Engineering Design, Principles of Engineering, and Digital Electronics. Students earn industry certification in Autodesk Inventor and AutoCAD. The Biomedical Sciences program provides students with an understanding of the role of the biomedical sciences field. A shortage of qualified science and health professionals prompted Project Lead The Way (PLTW) to develop a Biomedical Sciences program which consist of a sequence of four high school courses that are taken along with college preparatory math and science courses. In August 2012, Dunbar High School applied to be a International Baccalaureate (IB) School with a specialty in STEM and was selected as an IB Candidate School.


In 2013, a major part of the schools has been torn down to make way for a 35 Million dollar renovation, which will allow Dunbar to enroll twice the number of students into its academic programs. To date, our program continues to receive numerous awards and hope to continue to offer the latest in IT certifications to our students.

Every Child a Graduate. Every Child Prepared for Life.