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Students Excelling In New Horizons Dual Language Spanish Academy

Students Excelling In New Horizons Dual Language Spanish Academy

The Dual Language International Spanish Academy Program at New Horizons Elementary School in Wellington educates students to become fully bilingual, biliterate and bicultural.

According to Principal Dana Pallaria, the dual-language program at New Horizons allows her students to reach the high standards that are necessary for becoming productive members of the community.

The dual language program at New Horizons has been in place for 15 years. The program partners with the Department of Education in Spain. With this partnership, New Horizons has become an international academy. This means that the school receives resources by way of visiting teachers from Spain, who come to the United States for three years to teach not only the Spanish language, but also the culture of their home country. 

New Horizons was the first of three schools in Palm Beach County to receive this accreditation. For half the day, students receive education in English, while they learn in Spanish the other half.

“At New Horizons, we have approximately 675 students,” Pallaria said. “Approximately 450 students are in the International Spanish Academy in kindergarten through fifth grade. It is a full-immersion program. The students learn English and Spanish in both reading and science.

There are multiple benefits to a dual-language program, she explained.

“The reason we see it as being so important is that our students have the opportunity to excel in a foreign language,” Pallaria said. “The research shows that early entry into the International Spanish Academy, or any [foreign] language, produces very high SAT scores, which gives our students the benefit of getting into college. It increases listening skills, memory skills, and they have greater cognitive development.”

Aside from educational benefits, there are many other positive outcomes.

“It gives the student a multicultural appreciation, and they become bilingual at an early age,” Pallaria said. “It also opens up opportunities for careers in their future. Graduates from the International Spanish Academy in Palm Beach County will receive a diploma from Spain, as well as one in the United States, when they complete their high school education.”

The program is aimed at both English-speaking students and those who are from bilingual homes.

“We tell our families that [the programs] support their home language, it values their culture, it values other cultures, especially for our students who are English-speaking, and are in the program to learn Spanish,” Pallaria said. “The program increases their vocabulary and their ability to communicate with more people in the community.”

There are approximately 60 teachers at New Horizons, and 24 are certified to teach the dual-language program. The teachers must pass a language assessment, be certified, and be able to teach reading and science in both languages. Each teacher is responsible for two core subject areas.

Once a student enters the dual-language program in elementary school, they usually continue their dual-language education in middle school and high school.

New Horizons language coach Melissa Arcos explained a normal day in a student’s education. “Typically, a student will start their day on the English side,” Arcos said. “They will receive instruction in reading, writing and math. The students break for lunch, and then switch to go back to learn in their Spanish class. They will receive instruction for reading, writing, science and social studies, but in Spanish.”

In this way, it is a full-immersion program. “When they are in the Spanish classroom, the student will only hear Spanish. The teacher will communicate in Spanish only,” Arcos said. “All of the resources she uses will be in Spanish, as well.”

It is important for a dual-language program to begin early in a student’s education. It is best for a student to be enrolled in kindergarten, but a first or second grader still has a window of time to participate.

“We start as early as kindergarten,” Arcos said. “But we do encourage parents, because it is such a wonderful gift to give our kids, even if they are in first or second grade, it is not too late. By the time we hit third grade, we would have to evaluate the student, because at that point, we are expecting the language to be established, so that we can focus now, not on acquiring the language, but learning with that language.”

Teachers in the dual-language program at New Horizons are from all over the world, including Spain, Puerto Rico, Columbia, Venezuela and Mexico.

“All of the mix of cultures represents a different aspect of learning for our students,” Arcos explained. “We are actually teaching the children to listen to it and understand it, so they will eventually start trying it. It’s not a formal language class, like this is how you write a sentence or spell. We are actually teaching the student to listen to the language and pay attention to it, slowly acquiring the understanding.”

Communication can be difficult when visiting another culture. If there are no language skills to communicate, one is forced into having to find a way to speak. “With children, we are tactful, because we don’t want to cause any kind of frustration,” Arcos explained. “This is the beautiful thing about doing this at the elementary stage, where we can use videos and music, where teachers can be silly and act out what they are trying to communicate.”

The lessons are not repeated in a dual-language program. For instance, the student who receives lesson one in English, will move to lesson two in Spanish. They are not receiving the same lesson in both languages. Learning the language this way represents a challenge for the student.

“Students must keep up with what’s happening,” Arcos said. “This is where it is extremely important that both the English and Spanish teachers communicate. This is why we refer to them as partnerships, because they need to communicate what students are struggling with when having difficulty understanding the lessons.”

For those students learning Spanish, the teacher is going to have to give more support in English, Arcos noted, while for those learning English, the Spanish teacher will have to give more support in Spanish. “Our students are also a great tool,” Arcos said. “They are strategically put together so that an English speaker can help a Spanish speaker in English, and vice versa.”

To learn more about the Dual Language International Spanish Academy, call (561) 651-0500.

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Synchronized Ice Skating Is Growing In Popularity, Even Here In Florida

Synchronized Ice Skating Is Growing In Popularity, Even Here In Florida

Steve Lomax, together with his children (10-year-old Sofia and 8-year-old Austin), have come up with a family-friendly way to beat the summer heat. They leave their home in Wellington and head to the nearest ice skating rink.

“I started coming here when my other daughter, Natalie, was taking ice skating lessons,” he recalled. “She was four at the time. Soon, I was taking them, too. Now, it’s our family’s second home.”

Eventually, Natalie channeled her talents into soccer, but Steve, Sofia and Austin are now practicing every week for a big Theatre on Ice competition coming up on Aug. 17 in Virginia. As part of the Palm Beach Skate Zone synchronized ice skating team, they will present the production number “Arabian Nights,” a nod to Disney’s Aladdin.

“Because the production needs performers of all ages, it’s a chance for me to compete alongside my children,” Steve explained. “It’s a good chance for us to be together. We wear costumes, we have a script, there’s music, and we skate to it. I get to play Jafar. My son is Abu, the little monkey, and my daughter is one of the gypsies.”

Although this is the family’s first trip to the bi-annual competition, Steve has been featured in local Skate Zone shows, appearing as Dark Vader, a Nutcracker and the Grinch.

As the popularity of synchronized ice skating soars coast to coast, Palm Beach Skate Zone keeps pace with the trend by hosting teams for ages 5 to 7, 7 to 11, 12 and up, and the Theatre on Ice group for ages 6 through adult. The program is coached by Debra Fertig.

“Synchronized skating has been around since late 1950s,” Fertig said. “The first team was formed in Ann Arbor, Mich., although, back then, it was known as precision skating. There are 8 to 20 skaters on a team, with 90 percent of them female.”

Ann Arbor’s “Hockettes” team — similar to Radio City Music Hall’s “Rockettes” — was formed to entertain spectators during intermissions of the University of Michigan Wolverines hockey team. Because the emphasis was on precision and timing, it resembled a drill team routine in its early days.

Today, there are about 600 synchronized skate teams in the United States alone, with talk of making it an Olympic sport.

“Synchro offers skaters the ability to compete and immerse themselves at higher levels than individualized skating,” Fertig said. “When you train as an individual, it takes a tremendous amount of time, money and dedication with very slim chances of becoming a national or international competitor. But synchronized skating allows team members to compete at regional, sectional, national and international levels. You’re not doing spins, you’re doing these intricate patterns on the ice. It makes it easier to rise to a higher level.”

Competitive levels include synchro skills, preliminary, pre-juvenile, open-juvenile, juvenile, intermediate, novice, junior, senior, open collegiate, collegiate, open adult, open masters, masters and adult. Synchronized skating uses the same judging system as singles, pairs and ice dancing. The discipline is primarily judged on skating skills, transitions, performance, composition, interpretation and difficulty of elements. What makes the sport so unique is the incredible teamwork, speed and intricate formations.

Each level performs a free-skate program that requires elements such as circles, lines, blocks, wheels, intersections, “moves in isolation” and, at higher levels, lifts.

“Moves in isolation” are when one or more skaters separates from the rest of the group and performs freestyle moves. For example, three skaters may separate and go into sit spins, while the rest of the team is in a circle formation. The three skaters will then join the group again and carry on with the routine.

In competitions, teams are required to perform step sequences, ranging in difficulty with each level. In the junior and senior divisions, teams are required to perform a free-skate, also known as a long program, as well as a short program. Generally, the short program is more technical in nature, where the free-skating program is longer and provides an opportunity to showcase expression, emotion and interpretation. Novice, junior and senior programs also include sequences where the whole team does moves such as bellman spirals, 170 spirals, unsupported spirals, spread eagles and more.

Fertig is particularly pleased to see that figure skating, a discipline that formerly focused on one individual, has grown to be so much more.

“The benefits of synchronized skating are that it is a team sport, so it brings together skaters and their families in practice, performing and celebrations. It brings all ages together,” she said.

There’s another benefit as well. “The number of colleges and universities who have synchro skating teams is growing,” Fertig noted. “Skating makes you a standout on your application. If you are a synchronized figure skater, you can aspire to their team.”

Over the years, North American teams have developed more creative and innovative routines, incorporating stronger basic skating skills, new maneuvers and more sophisticated transitions, which naturally necessitated greater speed, style and agility.

Due to this growing interest, the first official international competition was held between Canadian and American teams in 1976. With the internationalization of the sport, it has evolved rapidly, with increasing emphasis on speed and skating skills, and highlight elements such as jumps, spirals, spins and lifts that originally were not permitted in competition.

“I’m all about having kids have an activity,” Fertig said. “You often don’t think about ice skating in South Florida, but when you come to the rink, you make friends. It’s a win-win. I want to give them a sense of belonging. They get together, wear the team jacket, exercise regularly and learn to be a team player. It is similar to Rockettes on ice; we dress alike and do the same things. The challenge is to be as one — making lines, circles and blocks, as one. They learn respect, patience and skating skills.”

To learn more about the synchronized ice skating team at Palm Beach Skate Zone, call (561) 963-5900 or visit www.pbskatezone.com.

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The Arc Of Palm Beach County Honored For Outstanding Service

The Arc Of Palm Beach County Honored For Outstanding Service

Ralph is about to celebrate his third anniversary at Otis Elevator Company. He stuffs envelopes to help the company with its monthly billing, and the job helps Ralph buy DVDs of his favorite TV shows and movies. Working gives the 45-year-old a sense of purpose.

The Wellington-area resident has been part of The Arc of Palm Beach County’s Adult Career Transition Program since 2008. The Arc staff take Ralph to and from his job at Otis Elevator and help him complete his time sheets and stay organized.

The career program is just one of the many services that The Arc of Palm Beach County has been providing for people with disabilities since 1958. The nonprofit’s ongoing dedication to creating connections and encouraging independence for people with disabilities led the United Way to name it a Community Champion. The honor was bestowed at the Simply the Best Awards ceremony in May.

The Arc’s wide array of services address the needs of all people with disabilities, from infants to senior citizens. Along with educational and recreational activities, the nonprofit also provides group housing and in-home or center-based respite care to help parents find balance as they care for their child. The United Way has funded many of these programs, allowing the nonprofit to serve more than 2,800 families each year. 

“The United Way of Palm Beach County is grateful to be a partner in the incredible work that The Arc is doing in our community,” said Dr. Laurie George, president and CEO of United Way of Palm Beach County. “Like the United Way, their programs were created in direct response to the community’s need for basic services so that everyone can achieve their full potential. The Arc is a champion for individuals in our community with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and it was our honor to recognize them for the significant impact they are making.”

The Arc was also recognized this spring for its fiscal responsibility. In fact, Volunteer Florida and AmeriCorps founded the Financial Organization of the Year Award in honor of The Arc. Thanks to a grant from Volunteer Florida, 27 AmeriCorps workers were able to spend a year working at The Arc and learning about the nonprofit. As the AmeriCorps representatives gained experience, they noted the nonprofit’s efforts to document expenses, issue reimbursements and maintain overall financial excellence. 

“This year, there was one organization that we felt was so deserving of recognition, we created the new Financial Organization of the Year Award,” said Tracie Lambright, senior financial analyst for Volunteer Florida. “They have become an exceptional role model for other organizations, and those who are struggling in this area should reach out to them for guidance.”

The Arc of Palm Beach County President and CEO Kimberly McCarten said her organization was honored by these awards.

“It’s an incredible honor to be recognized for our lifeworks,” McCarten said. “Receiving these awards from those who have entrusted us with their time and resources, reaffirms that our efforts are truly felt in every corner of our community.”

McCarten added that seeing the daily accomplishments of the people they serve keeps the nonprofit’s staff motivated. The impact they have made in Ralph’s life is evident — his smile is consistent no matter how many envelopes he has to stuff. For the staff at The Arc, there is no greater reward.

To learn more about how The Arc is helping to better the community and the future for people with disabilities, visit www.arcpbc.org.

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Wellington’s Elbridge Gale Claims Top Fundraising Honors From Leukemia & Lymphoma Society

Wellington’s Elbridge Gale Claims Top Fundraising Honors From Leukemia & Lymphoma Society

For years, Palm Beach County teachers, staff, students and families have supported the various campaigns of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, the world’s largest voluntary health agency dedicated to fighting blood cancers. This past year, one Wellington elementary school claimed top fundraising honors in Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast.

The LLS mission is to cure leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease and myeloma, and improve the quality of life of patients and their families. Funds raised by LLS support lifesaving blood cancer research around the world while also providing free information and support services locally to patients and their families. 

Wellington’s Elbridge Gale Elementary School took the prize for top fundraising school in the region, raising $14,283. The A-rated school located on Royal Fern Drive has an enrollment of 1,070 and has long been deeply involved in the LLS mission. Drew Dawson, a current fourth-grade student at the school, is a leukemia survivor and served as the school’s 2018-19 Honored Hero. He is one of several Elbridge Gale students affected by leukemia in recent years.

Funds raised by more than 29,000 schools nationwide assist LLS in serving patients, as well as funding innovative research worldwide to find cures. In 2019, the LLS Palm Beach-Treasure Coast Chapter had 155 schools participating in the Pennies for Patients Student Series program, with 106 of those schools in Palm Beach County alone. The 155 schools collectively raised more than $235,000 to support the LLS mission.

Palm Beach County schools received thousands of dollars in Amazon gift certificates and engaged more than 70,000 students in hands-on, experiential activities in the 2018-19 school year. LLS would not have seen success like this without the support of Superintendent Dr. Donald E. Fennoy, who has been a huge advocate for LLS and has promoted the importance of community service as part of a well-rounded education.

Several other schools in the Wellington area also did their part for the cause. Wellington Elementary School raised $4,544, Emerald Cove Middle School raised $4,423, Binks Forest Elementary School raised $3,472 and the Renaissance Charter School at Wellington raised $2,635.

The LLS Student Series is a service learning, character education and philanthropy program where students gain the experience of helping thousands of children and adults in their fight against blood cancers like leukemia. Students see firsthand how their involvement can make a difference in helping save the lives of blood cancer patients simply by helping raise money. Through the LLS Student Series, students and educators throughout the United States and Canada have raised more than $314 million since 1993 in support of the LLS mission.

The School District of Palm Beach County has supported two specific Student Series programs. Collect for Cures is LLS’s service learning, character education and philanthropy program where students of all ages gain the unique experience of helping thousands of children and adults in their fight against blood cancers like leukemia by collecting money over a three-week period. There are programs available for each grade level that incorporate the philanthropic program with curriculum areas such as art, math, science, social studies and language arts.

Pennies for Patients is LLS’s year-long program specifically for elementary and middle schools. This science-based, service-learning program connects schools with local blood cancer patients, provides tangible life skills to participants and allows students to see the impact they’re making in the lives of others. Participating schools receive a comprehensive, experiential K-8 STEM curriculum to incorporate into the fundraising campaign. The STEM curriculum covers key Common Core skills and features hands-on, experiential activities. It also includes timesaving patterns and ready-to-use-presentations for teachers.

Elementary and middle schools receive boxes for each classroom and individual boxes for each student to take the LLS Students Series home to their families and provide an easy way to carry change back to school. Donations collected in the form of coins, paper money, checks and online donations are spent on patient and community services, research, public health and professional education.

School donation pages can be accessed at the top right corner of the LLS web site. Each year, prizes and awards are given to students, classrooms and schools to encourage excitement and participation, such as a pasta party hosted through a national partnership with Olive Garden.

For more information about local Leukemia & Lymphoma Society programs, visit www.lls.org/palm-beach-area.

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Youth Puts Wellington Over The Top On 2019 Let’s Move Challenge

Youth Puts Wellington Over The Top On 2019 Let’s Move Challenge

What does it take to log 12,849,676 minutes of physical activity across the Village of Wellington to win the Palm Health Foundation’s 2019 Let’s Move challenge? According to Paulette Edwards, Wellington’s community services director, the key was community engagement.

“We thought through all the ways our community comes together — government, community organizations, neighborhoods, schools, parks and businesses — and engaged every age group from pre-K to seniors,” she explained.

Wellington bested 409 teams across Palm Beach County to log the most minutes of exercise during the Palm Health Foundation’s “Let’s Move: Commit to Change Physical Activity Challenge” in March — the second time in two years that Wellington won. The village accounted for a whopping 40 percent of the total 32 million minutes logged.

The challenge, now in its seventh year, inspires Palm Beach County residents to complete and log 30 minutes of activity each day during the month of March. 

According to Marge Sullivan, a 17-year Wellington resident and the Palm Health Foundation’s vice president of communications, Let’s Move was inspired by former First Lady Michelle Obama’s 2010 national program to decrease childhood obesity.

“We created the challenge for adults and children to improve a variety of health issues through regular physical activity, including reducing the risk for diabetes and heart disease, improving brain health, and increasing chances for healthy longevity,” Sullivan said.

Startling statistics were also the impetus. The State of Obesity’s annual report cites that Florida’s adult obesity rate is currently 28.4 percent, up from 18.4 percent in 2000, and it has the nation’s 13th highest obesity rate for youth ages 10 to 17 at 16.9 percent.

The importance of improving residents’ overall health — both mind and body — was what attracted Jill Merrell, owner of Wellington’s Ultima Fitness, to champion the village’s Let’s Move team since it began.

“We’ve always been advocates of the community and getting people active,” Merrell said. “Ultima Fitness continually evolves to better serve our community. Let’s Move gave us the opportunity to show people how they can reach their wellness goals no matter their level of fitness. It’s so rewarding to see how people of all ages increase their energy levels and happiness through exercise.”

Merrell opened Ultima to the community for free the entire month of March and encouraged everyone to log their minutes. They also engaged their martial arts school youth, childcare group and mom’s club to all become active. Merrell believes that parents and youth leaders need to set the example. “By educating the adults, we are creating role models for children,” she said.

Mayor Anne Gerwig couldn’t agree more. That’s why she and the other four Wellington Village Council members embraced Let’s Move. “Getting kids out and active and setting a pattern of behavior gets them on the right path for their entire lives,” Gerwig said.

The mayor and council members kicked off their support by participating in a Let’s Move campaign video that was designed to get youth involved. Playing the role of rallier-in-chief, Assistant Village Manager Jim Barnes donned a sweatband, his Converse sneakers and Let’s Move t-shirt for the filming. Walking through Village Park, he and the council members pass by athletes from Wellington and Palm Beach Central high schools, showing them in action and then becoming part of a growing swarm of youth joining Barnes and the Let’s Move team. 

Edwards knew that by making the youth the spotlight of the video, they would share it on social media and invite their fellow athletes and friends to join. She also knew that engaging the high school’s activity directors and the Parks & Recreation Department and other youth community groups, like the Boys & Girls Club, Wellington could be a contender for the top spot in the challenge.

It worked. Parks & Recreation accounted for nearly half of the 12.8 million minutes logged, and the Boys & Girls Club was also a huge contributor.

Gerwig is quick to point out that the goal of Let’s Move isn’t just to log minutes. It’s to make a change in everyone’s life, particularly for youth, by instilling lifelong healthy behaviors, no matter one’s abilities. “It’s not about the level of activity, it’s the time,” she said. “And it’s not about being a super athlete. Everyone can participate at some level.”

While Wellington’s youth were the engine that put the village over the top, Edwards cites the many other creative ways that her department encouraged all ages to participate. Neighborhood Watch captains invited members of their communities to join in evening walks. Seniors taking part in the mall’s “Walkers of Wellington” logged their minutes. And nonprofit, community and faith organizations that make up the Wellington Community Roundtable also took part.

When asked how her efforts helped toward the win, Edwards stressed that she just helped bring the community together. “Wellington had all of the ingredients for success,” she said. “I put myself in the role of the chef to put them all together to bake the cake for the win!”

Let’s Move sponsors included Joe DiMaggio Children’s Health Specialty Center, the Children’s Services Council of Palm Beach County and Wisehaupt, Bray Asset Management.

Learn more about Let’s Move at www.letsmovepbc.org. To view the Wellington Let’s Move video, visit www.youtube.com/user/MyWellingtonFl.

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Wellington Landings Teacher Karen Epstein Wins Top County Award For Educators

Wellington Landings Teacher Karen Epstein Wins Top County Award For Educators

Wellington has established itself as the home of the best and most talented, not only in the areas of equestrian sports, but also in the area of education, where the community is home to some of the best public schools and the most outstanding teachers. Among them is Wellington Landings Middle School fine arts teacher Karen Epstein.

In May, Epstein was named the winner of a William T. Dwyer Award for Excellence in Education, an annual award given to six educators in Palm Beach County. She was honored as the county’s top teacher in the Career Education category for 2019.

The William T. Dwyer Awards for Excellence in Education is an annual program of the Economic Council of Palm Beach County Foundation, which recognizes outstanding educators from the area’s public and private schools.

The Dwyer Awards program seeks to increase awareness of the exemplary teaching in Palm Beach County, while supporting educators and schools with financial awards and encouraging residents to promote high standards of excellence in education.

“Teachers in Palm Beach County refer to the Dwyer Awards as the ‘Academy Awards’ of Palm Beach County,” Dwyer Award Coordinator Natalie Carron said.

Teachers were honored this year in six categories: Elementary School Education, Middle School Education, High School Education, Career Education, STEM Education, and Special Programs Education. Next year, there will be a seventh category added, a Dwyer Award for Palm Beach County’s best pre-kindergarten teacher.

Epstein — who teaches courses in audio visual arts, television production and theater at Wellington Landings — just finished her 22nd year working for the Palm Beach County School District, including 15 years in the classroom, of which nine years have been at Wellington Landings.

First, a list of finalists is announced, before a gala awards ceremony. On May 15, Epstein and the five other winners were honored at the 35th annual William T. Dwyer Awards for Excellence in Education ceremony held at the Kravis Center for Performing Arts. Epstein and the other winning educators each received $3,500 and a crystal flame award for their efforts.

While Epstein was thrilled to win the prestigious award, she was equally impressed by the accomplishments of other nominees and finalists.

“There are some amazing teachers in Palm Beach County,” Epstein said. “I was awestruck to hear the credentials of the other teachers.”

It’s a distinct honor to win a Dwyer Award, as nearly 350 Palm Beach County teachers were nominated for the award this year. From there, usually five or six educators per category are named as finalists. The winner of each award is selected by a committee of nearly 80 local business leaders.

According to Wellington Landings Middle School Principal Blake Bennett, Epstein is a worthy Dwyer Award winner.

“Karen Epstein is so dedicated to her students, improving our community and spreading kindness. She works so hard to make sure she meets the needs of all of her students while teaching so much more than curriculum, but how to be productive citizens, while promoting a love of life-long learning,” said Bennett, who just finished her eighth year as the school’s principal. “There is nothing she can’t or won’t do. She had 86 students perform in our play this year, Willy Wonka Jr. Not many people can coordinate 86 middle school students for months to put on an absolutely phenomenal musical that is a great experience for all involved.”

Bennett appreciates Epstein’s work both in and out of the classroom.

“She also makes sure that the culture of our school is always addressed, from her production of our video announcements to her participation in our Gold Level Model Positive Behavior Support Team, and working with our Kindness Ambassadors all over our school and community,” Bennett said of Epstein. “I could never sum up everything she does in a nutshell. She never stops working for her students and our school.”

Epstein, who graduated from Forest Hill High School, attributes her success to a willingness to listen to her students and show some compassion for them. 

“I’m really more of a facilitator than a teacher,” said Epstein, herself a mother of three. “I let them find their own path. I have a mix of taught routines and class expectations. It’s important to have a sense of humor, a kind spirit, and be willing to listen to the students when they need someone to talk to about their issues and concerns.”

Epstein realized that she was a little different after being diagnosed with dyslexia as a teenager, which negatively impacted her interest in reading, but not her interest in learning.

“My interest in science fiction led me to science, which helped me with math and reading,” she explained.

While Epstein has had great success as a teacher, becoming a teacher was not her initial focus.

“While in college, I majored in everything at least once — journalism, astronomy, criminal justice, theater, to name a few,” Epstein explained.

In the end, she settled on a business degree, based on advice from one of her grandfathers.

She earned her bachelor’s degree from Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach and her master’s degree in business administration from Walden University. Her teaching certification is in special education (K-12), business education (K-12) and middle grades integrated curriculum.

Wellington Landings Middle School has a track record of producing Dwyer Award-winning teachers, including Sandra Coster in 2008 and Ron Wilber in 2013.

Besides Epstein, two other Wellington teachers were finalists for this year’s Dwyer Awards: Kathy Zangen from Binks Forest Elementary School in the Elementary School Education category and Tracy Sheppard from Elbridge Gale Elementary School in the STEM Education category. They each received $500 and a certificate.

What did Epstein do with her award money? “Well, I had to pay my bills, and then I had my car professionally cleaned and detailed,” Epstein said.

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Customer Service Team Is Standing By To Help Wellington Residents In Need

Customer Service Team Is Standing By To Help Wellington Residents In Need

In 2018, Wellington’s Customer Service Department handled 43,000 phone calls and assisted 33,000 visitors. The team of 13 people is dedicated to serving the community and takes the relationship between local government and its residents very seriously.

“Instead of each department, we have one centralized location where we can provide the best customer service to the residents of Wellington,” Customer Service Manager Mindi Lockhart said. “Everyone is trained so that residents are getting consistent information and not being bounced around. Resolution is our goal.”

The department covers more than the front line of service windows, it also handles the village’s call center and the main front desk at the Wellington Municipal Complex. Operators are available Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and there’s a plan in place for emergency calls outside of normal business hours.

Lockhart’s teammate Elizabeth Arocho is also a customer service manager. She finds working during the worst of times — specifically during a major storm — a vital responsibility for the department.

“During storms, we have folks here on lockdown. That means they are here before the storm starts, during the storm and after the storm. We don’t leave. We make sure the public has the ability for direct contact with a live person,” Arocho said. “During Tropical Storm Isaac, we had a lot rainfall and flooding. So many residents were calling in scared and worried about their horses. Just watching the call centers take those calls in a calm manner that helped quell our residents’ fears — that was a proud mom moment.”

The team is passionate about this important role. Customer Service Administrative Coordinator Wayne Turpin is a perfect example. After nearly five years in the department, he is still excited about his work, even during a storm.

“I volunteered for it. My family lives close by, so I might as well be here working and helping out. They normally get us in a couple of hours before a storm gets bad, so we are here through everything. In the last storm, we were here Saturday morning through Monday morning,” Turpin recalled. “There is always a liaison from the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office and Palm Beach County Fire-Rescue here with us. I got a call during the last storm from a resident who lost part of a pergola, and it had punctured a gas line in the middle of the storm. We were able to get people dispatched to address the problem. PBCFR coordinated with us and got someone there to seal it off without any issues.”

Lockhart and Arocho work in tandem to keep the department running smoothly. “Our main goal during a hurricane is to make sure that the public is safe, and our staff is safe. We are all in this boat and have to get through a hurricane together,” Lockhart said. “Afterward, of course, we work to get everything back to normal as fast as possible.”

The recurring theme in the Customer Service Department is teamwork. They treat each other as a second family, but also as an additional resource when dealing with difficult situations.

“People call us for every single thing, from people who don’t know what to do with an alligator to others wanting to rent a pavilion; from what the movie is going to be this weekend to how to get a passport or driver’s license. We have to be on point and have all the information at our fingertips,” Senior Customer Service Representative Christina Fugarese said. “We get calls from everywhere and have so much to offer our residents. We like to wow all our callers and give them wonderful, outstanding Wellington service.”

Arocho has worked for the village for more than 14 years now, in several different departments. She finds her current work very different than when she started out reading water meters in the field.

“Customer service is a bit fast-paced, and you definitely have more responsibility,” Arocho said. “I think it’s because you’re dealing with customers firsthand and making sure that the image we portray is a good one.”

The Customer Service Department team is charged with knowing what all 300 Wellington employees do, otherwise routing calls to the correct person becomes a much slower task. Training remains important to the department, and future plans include finding more ways to better serve the community.

“We are in the process of putting in a training for crisis management so that not only is our call staff knowledgeable about the community, but they’ll also have the knowledge of how to handle those types of calls, too,” Arocho said.

Utilities Customer Service Representative Jashly Botex noted the differences in her past three years with Wellington compared to her experience working with other municipalities, particularly regarding the web site.

“I needed special training on the online system, especially things like troubleshooting with the customers. We will help them set up an online profile or autopay, and they have all other types of questions,” Botex said. “We must have such an understanding of the site and also be consistent both on the phone and in person. We learn to ask the right questions, to go above and beyond, even offering same-day service.”

With a staff that ranges from two to nearly 20 years working for Wellington, all take pride in developing solid, genuine relationships with residents.

“I get very few escalated phone calls because our representatives treat the customers how they want to be treated,” Lockhart said. “It’s also because when you give good, you get good. Our employees do that because they know they are treated well here, and it’s a great place to wake up in the morning and say, ‘I get to go to work, and it’s not a bad thing, it’s a good thing.’”

Both managers agree that working for a smaller, tight-knit community allows for excellent customer service.

“My favorite thing is the relationships that you form with residents — it’s a friendship more than a customer-type feeling here,” Arocho said.

Whether handling business tax inquiries, sharing information about public meetings and events, or helping customers solve problems with their homes, the consistency and commitment of Wellington’s Customer Service Department remains strong.

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Dr. Emily Harrison Uses Technology To Provide A More Personal Approach

Dr. Emily Harrison Uses Technology To Provide A More Personal Approach

Originally from New Jersey, Wellington’s Dr. Emily Harrison cares for patients the way she would want her own family members to be treated. She works to get to know her patients as individuals, and to develop an understanding of the cultural, spiritual, and social factors that may be contributing to the patient’s health concerns, all with technology and a personal touch.

Moving to the Wellington area three years ago, Harrison enjoys spending time outside of work with her family, being outdoors and running in the community’s many parks. She enjoys going to equestrian events with her family and cooking healthy meals.

“My passion for preventive care inspired me to go into primary care,” Harrison explained. “I enjoy working with patients to set personal goals to improve their health.”

Harrison helped start up the first One Medical office in Washington, D.C. The firm, which now has offices nationwide, is part of a new concept in healthcare across the country that focuses on a personal approach with a designated provider for each patient. The doctor/patient communication relationship is emphasized, and the access to the doctor is maximized while waits are kept to a minimum.

“It is almost like a concierge service, but they take insurance,” Harrison explained. “They treat patients personally, in a relaxed setting with lots of provider communication with the clients. I love that approach — with so much communication. I strive for it in my own practice.”

Harrison incorporates the patient’s entire lifestyle into treatment to get them healthy and keep them that way.

“I focus on educating my patients and setting personal goals to improve their health,” she said. “I stress the importance of incorporating diet, exercise and lifestyle modifications to prevent and treat disease.”

Harrison makes a point to get to know each of her patients very well to facilitate the overall treatment and wellness plan. Somewhat ironically, technology is helping in re-establishing that seemingly long-lost family doctor/patient rapport.

The medical practice has portal technology to make keeping up with medical records easy for the patient, and it has the ability for patients to communicate with the doctor using phones and computers without the need for an office visit.

“I offer telemedicine for established patients,” Harrison said of the HIPPA-compliant, secure computer video link for patients where she can interact with them and “see” the patient without the need for an office visit.

Harrison explained the benefits of the technology.

“It is sometimes difficult for patients to come in during their busy schedule and workdays, or they are too sick to get out of bed,” she said. “These visits may be used for colds or acute illnesses, as well as follow-up visits for high blood pressure or for prescription refills when appropriate.”

Harrison added that the service makes it easier to continue getting the appropriate follow-up care if the patient’s busy schedule, mobility issues or illness makes it difficult to come in.

Harrison said that she is happy to be building her practice here in Wellington and is accepting new patients.

“Wellington has so much to offer, whether experiencing an internationally recognized equestrian event, enjoying local parks or the beach, and events at the exceptional schools,” she said. “I enjoy taking care of patients of all ages and strive to keep the entire family healthy.”

Dr. Emily Harrison’s office is located on the campus of Wellington Regional Medical Center at 10111 W. Forest Hill Blvd., Suite 255. The office accepts insurance and there is no subscription fee. Call (561) 377-7131 or visit www.emilyharrisonmd.com for more information.

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Spacious Homeland Estate Features High Ceilings And An Ultra-Modern Design

Spacious Homeland Estate Features High Ceilings And An Ultra-Modern Design

This picturesque, five-acre estate is located in the peaceful, gated equestrian community of Homeland, located just minutes from Wellington’s world-renowned equestrian venues. A total transformation was recently completed on the 7,600-square-foot home, giving the remodeled property a very modern, luxurious design.

Boasting six bedrooms and expansive bathrooms throughout, the property has a separate building for grooms’ living quarters, with more than 1,400 square feet of living space that includes an additional four bedrooms with ultra-sleek bathroom designs. Complete with a professionally designed jumper and dressage arena, no detail has been left undone. Additional equestrian amenities include eight paddocks and a 10-stall concrete block structure barn with tack and feed rooms.

The main house features an open, sunny floor plan with high, 22-foot ceilings in a 2,500-square-foot living room area surrounded by sliding glass doors opening out to a 4,000-square-foot wooden deck, two heated salt pools and an outdoor bar/grill area. The newly rebuilt home has a new, four-zone HVAC system, electric, plumbing, metal roof, kitchen, smart home system, elevator, movie theater, entertainment area with a pool table, bar, walk-in wine room and built-in coffee machine — all in an energy-efficient space.

The home was designed by Alex Timpy, who has been designing luxury homes for decades. She has designed many homes and has even lived in and sold several in her years as a designer. Each of the properties she is commissioned to work on gets its own unique look once complete. She breathes new life into each project she takes on. You will never see the same placement of furniture in any one arrangement, as each home has a different pattern to the layout, and Timpy arranges the furniture to adorn each room.

Although a designer, Timpy approaches each design through the lens of an owner, and she tries to incorporate what they love and showcase the features that they desire. This property is no different, as the large wood beams stretching throughout the first floor invoke the passion of the outdoors and a farm-like flair that surrounds this ultra-modern indoor style. While the aesthetic design took on a life of its own, there were also walls moved and rooms redesigned and reconfigured.

“The color palette jumped out at me immediately when I envisioned this home and its final result,” Timpy explained. “This home also screamed for a media room complete with movie theater and billiard room, as there will surely be a lot of entertaining going on here. With the wall opened up to the back and placement of surrounding glass sliding doors facing the beautiful lake, I had to definitely create an outdoor kitchen built as a chef’s dream, alongside a very modern fireplace that you can view from both sides.”

This home is located in paradise, and it is truly a one-of-a-kind dream estate.

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New Whit’s Frozen Custard Serving Up Smiles In A Cup

New Whit’s Frozen Custard Serving Up Smiles In A Cup

The newly opened Whit’s Frozen Custard in the Courtyard Shops of Wellington goes far beyond making tasty treats. The husband-and-wife proprietors, Chris and Natalie Mass, strive to bring the community together, while giving back along the way.

“We’d been looking at different markets to expand, and Wellington as a community really matches up with our core principals,” Chris Mass explained. “One of the things I learned early on is that we’re creating more than a customer experience. We’re creating memories.”

The thriving Ohio-based franchise was started by Natalie’s childhood best friend, Lisa, and her husband Chuck Whitman in 2003. The two started franchising in 2008, with expansion to Florida in 2015. Chris and Natalie Mass watched the progress, then decided it was time to open their own custard shop. They started in Stuart, and celebrated their Wellington grand opening on April 27, tantalizing the taste buds of customers with their different take on the frozen dessert.

“The difference between frozen custard and yogurt, first, is the amount of air, or overrun,” Chris Mass said. “Ice cream and yogurt have as much as 80 percent air in it. We have less than 20 percent, so we’re more dense.”

What also sets Whit’s apart from other frozen confection franchises is the small batch approach, using only the finest and freshest ingredients. It’s a daily process that starts about 3 hours before opening each day.

“First and foremost, we make the custard fresh every day,” Mass said. “We make three flavors in small batches. We continuously make it throughout the day, so it’s uber-fresh. We make a little bit, serve it, a little bit, serve it.”

Aside from vanilla and chocolate, Whit’s makes a flavor that changes daily. Along with a wide array of mix-ins, this allows guests to enjoy many combinations of the custard, which is softer than ice cream and firmer than yogurt.

“With less air, there’s a higher butterfat content,” Mass explained. “That’s actually a good kind of fat, so that gives it some of its creaminess. Then, we also use pasteurized, sweetened egg yolks, which makes for a richer version of other frozen desserts.”

The two biggest sellers are sundaes, as well as what they call “Whitsers.”

“Whitsers are where we add the toppings and blend it lightly to mix the toppings in it, but you still use a spoon,” Mass said. “We use the highest quality ingredients only.”

Toppings include fresh strawberries and blueberries, caramel, butterscotch, pecans and many more.

“The Whitmans, who started the franchise, gave us a book of 350-plus recipes for our daily flavors. We rotate new ones, but also make the favorites,” Director of Operations Amanda Bachman said.

The daily flavors run the gamut and include Maple Donut, Key Lime Pie, Bourbon Praline Pecan, Fluffer Nutter Cookie and many more. A calendar hangs on the wall, mapping out each flavor of the day for the month. The flavors, along with their descriptions, are posted on Facebook each day as well, so customers can plan their visits. There also are vegan options, made with coconut milk.

Prices start at $3.75 for a 5-ounce kids’ scoop, to a 22-ounce large Whitser for $8.75. The owners also find it extremely important to give back, including incentive programs and partnerships with schools, with what they call the “Scooper Star Award.” That’s where a student who does a good deed is rewarded with a certificate for a free single scoop, or $2 toward any other menu item.

“It’s for elementary and middle school students where they get a free kids’ scoop,” Mass said. “I distribute the certificates to administrators, free of charge, and I ask them to reward children who are being kind, generous and thoughtful. When they come into the store, we make a big deal out of it. They get to tell us what they did or what their accomplishment was.”

Creating job opportunities for young people is also important.

“We hire as young as 14 to 15. We have shift leaders who are 17 and 18 years old,” Mass said. “It gives them experience in the workforce. I’ve had some go off to college and write me to tell me how it has helped to prepare them for their future.”

Mass also extends discounts to groups within the community. In July, all healthcare industry workers and their families received 10 percent off their total. In August, its chamber members and their families. Throughout the entire summer, anyone who works for the school district gets 10 percent off their bill.

They also offer a loyalty program, where customers earn 10 percent off toward their next visit every five times they check-in. They can bank it until they have as much as 50 percent off. “It’s based on visits, not amount spent,” Mass noted.

Whit’s also features hand-packed quarts sold in their grab-and-go freezer, as well as frozen custard cakes. There’s as many as 30 different recipes that can be custom-made starting at $25. The most popular is the Buckeye Madness, which is made with peanut butter, fudge and Reese’s cups.

Mass and his wife have plans to eventually expand to Port St. Lucie and Jupiter. As for the new location, he is striving to make it a community gathering place for making memories for years to come. “Our goal is not to be in Wellington for a couple of years, but decades, so families can come for generations,” he said.

Open Monday through Sunday from 1 to 10 p.m., Whit’s Frozen Custard is located at 13880 Wellington Trace in the Courtyard Shops at the corner of Wellington Trace and Greenview Shores Blvd., next to Tijuana Flats. For more info., call (561) 855-2500 or visit www.facebook.com/whitsofwellington.

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