Duval’s Northwestern Middle School Gets Computer Science Academy

Mar 1, 2017

Jacksonville’s Northwestern Middle School will soon have its own computer science academy, thanks to a $2.1 million state grant.

The Duval County School District announced Wednesday the academy will feature subjects including coding, video game design and information technology beginning next school year.


Northwestern sixth-grader Dalilah Josinvil was kneeling on the floor next to several small robots on wheels in her school’s media center. The “sumo bots” are programmed to battle and push each other out of a ring.

“If it does something wrong we’ll have to put a code in it to make it work,” Dalilah said.

She said she has some experience with these bots, but next year if she’s in the program she’ll be able to take elective classes, like coding and gaming. And computer science will be built into her core classes like math and English, said Alexandra Vlachakis, who oversees computer science in the district. She said English classes will use an animation program.

“They would take a component that they do in English — let’s say they were learning a particular poem — so they would then actually animate the actual poem,” she said.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 71 percent of new science, technology, engineering and math jobs are in computing, but only 8 percent of STEM grads are in computer science. So Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said this program is needed to prepare kids for their futures. He also said this academy is needed to bring students back to the school.

“We’ve seen too many students that should be going to Northwestern go to other schools throughout the county including charter schools,” he said

Vitti said the school could serve between 400 and 500 more students.

Board Chair Paula Wright, who used to teach at Northwestern, said she was proud the academy doesn’t require kids living nearby to apply, they just get to go to the school because it’s not a dedicated magnet.  

“It’s important that we make certain that all neighborhoods have a quality educational system, program, initiative in each neighborhood school so that all students receive the same opportunity and don’t have to feel the need to leave their neighborhood,” she said.

District Spokeswoman Laureen Ricks said the process for selecting Northwestern students into the academy is yet to be decided.

Northwestern will become the middle school computer science hub for teachers from other schools to train and checkout equipment.

The Student Improvement Grant will be used to retrofit classrooms and purchase learning materials like robotics kits. A portion of it will also go to support STEM labs in other schools.

Over the past three years, SIG grants have been used to support STEM education in 44 other Title I Duval schools, which serve large amounts of students on free and reduced lunch.

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Reporter Lindsey Kilbride can be reached at lkilbride@wjct.org, 904-358-6359 or on Twitter at @lindskilbride.