Category Archives: Wellington Education

A Passion For Education

A Passion For Education
Elbridge Gale Elementary School’s Principal Gail Pasterczyk Has Led The School Since It Opened

Story by Deborah Welky | Photos by Denise Fleischman

While Elbridge Gale Elementary School is located in one of Wellington’s older neighborhoods, it is actually one of the newer schools in the community. Located near the Wellington library, the school has had only had one principal since opening in 2006 — longtime local educator Gail Pasterczyk.

With her car buried deep in the snow of upstate New York, Pasterczyk, then a first-year teacher, decided to spend spring break visiting her grandparents in Florida. While here, she decided to apply for some teaching positions and was offered three.

“I went back, told my roommate that I was moving to Florida, and packed up immediately after finishing the school year,” Pasterczyk recalled. “I took a position teaching students with emotional behavior disorders at Highland Elementary School. But it was like I wasn’t even working. It was like I was always on vacation because the weather was so beautiful.”

When Highland’s program was moved to South Olive Elementary School three years later, Pasterczyk moved with it. After getting married, she moved to Wellington in 1982 and went to work at the newly opened Wellington Elementary School under its legendary Principal Buz Spooner. While there, she coordinated the school’s Exceptional Student Education (ESE) programs and started its inclusion program as well.

“That’s where I got the bug for leadership,” Pasterczyk said. “Buz called me his ‘AP for ESE students and teachers.’ So, I went to Nova University and got my leadership degree in 1987.”

She next served six years as assistant principal at Manatee Elementary School, and then became principal at Indian Pines Elementary School in Lake Worth. It was then a struggling, D-rated school.

“When I got there, Indian Pines was one point away from being an F-rated school,” Pasterczyk said. “It took me two years, but I got that letter grade raised to an A and kept it there for the next four years I was at the school.”

Yet, when she heard that a new school was opening in Wellington, she had to apply. She was hired as the principal of an as-yet-unnamed elementary school then physically located in “concretables” behind Wellington Landings Middle School.

“It was hard to leave Indian Pines, but I was ready for a new challenge, and my heart was in Wellington,” Pasterczyk said. “Wellington supports its schools like no other community.”

Coming in on the ground floor, Pasterczyk was able to put her stamp on the new school. “I had weekly meetings with the construction crew, and I was able to pick the design and the colors. We had a committee comprised of myself, my staff and students, and that’s how we got the school colors. The students picked gold, the staff picked green and my favorite color has always been purple, so every piece of furniture — the chairs and the file cabinets — is purple. It makes it a fun, happy place for elementary students.”

Parents, students and others submitted potential names for the school.

“We wanted a science-based school with extensive gardens, and when we researched names, the entire committee just loved learning about Elbridge Gale, an important person in Florida history,” Pasterczyk said. “He was a school superintendent in the late 1800s, a minister and a horticulturist. He actually brought the Haden mango to South Florida, and Mangonia Park is named after that.”

Pasterczyk chose her staff members carefully.

“I was able to hire all my staff — every single person. It’s a hand-picked, superstar staff comprised of many award winners,” she said. “I have two Palm Beach County teachers of the year, a Hispanic teacher of the year and an art teacher of the year — they’re incredible.”

She opened the school with the concept of departmentalization, that teachers would teach one subject they’re passionate about. “This way, every time there’s new curriculum and new standards, they become experts in their field,” Pasterczyk said. “Happy teachers make happy students, and they like working in teams to meet the needs of each child.”

Elbridge Gale is also home to many award-winning clubs, such as its chess, academic games and Lego robotics teams. Teachers with many diverse interests have an extra opportunity to share these passions with their students.

“Twice a year, we do six weeks of one-hour club sessions three days a week,” Pasterczyk said. “Kids can try out sports, art, photography, clay, baking, science, drones, gardening, cheerleading, tie-dying or an American Girl doll club. Students in all grade levels can try a new club each day.”

Elbridge Gale is a gold level school, a model school for Positive Behavior Support, a Green School of Excellence and a five-star school. “But we also believe our students need to give back to society,” Pasterczyk said. “My school counselor, Nicole Martinez, has led our school to No. 1 in the state among schools raising money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.”

Leading the school during the pandemic has been a challenge for Pasterczyk.

“I don’t like to see my staff struggle,” she said. “They’re an extraordinary staff, but the challenges placed on them from the beginning of the pandemic to now are unbelievable. Due to remote learning, we’re trying to catch up students who are performing farther below their grade level than we’ve ever seen before. And the mental health issue is on the forefront of everyone’s minds. We have to help students where they are now — both academically and emotionally. And we’re learning strategies and techniques for self-care for the adults too, not just the kids.”

Yet every cloud has a silver lining.

“The biggest change I’ve seen in students today is technology, and the pandemic threw us headlong into that one,” Pasterczyk said. “The students became very tech-savvy very quickly. They are able to navigate Google Classroom and all sorts of things. I couldn’t believe what kindergarteners could do.”

The students embraced this new technology far beyond what was expected.

“It has become a major learning tool,” she said. “Now, you can’t survive if you don’t have your Chromebook. Technology has opened up new horizons and opportunities for them.”

Luckily, Pasterczyk had already brought STEM to the school, infusing science, technology, engineering and math into existing programs of study.

“That led us to become a STEM-certified school,” she said. “Palm Beach County has a very rigorous certification progress. We met the criteria, and we are also the only school in the county that has nationally certified STEM teachers who have taken master’s courses in it. We are a designated STEM choice school for students within our boundaries, and big garden grants came with that, so we have aquaponic and hydroponic gardens, raised gardens with a garden bed for every grade level, and a Seminole Indian-built chickee hut for native learning involvement. We sell our produce to staff and parents, and the money we make goes back into the program.”

Pasterczyk credits her love of education to her father, Noel Shevack.

“My dad was a nuclear engineer for General Electric, and he really wanted me to be an engineer, but my passion, from a young age, was working with students with disabilities,” Pasterczyk said. “I did so at a summer camp each year, and I did respite care for 12-year-old autistic twin boys whose parents could never get a sitter, and for a baby who needed to be fed with a feeding tube. When I went to college, I had a dual major — exceptional student education and elementary education — and I did double student teaching. My dad is the one who impressed upon me the value of education.”

Many others have supported her along the way. “When I was at South Olive Elementary, Margaret Brockmiller put me on her leadership team and encouraged me to go into leadership,” Pasterczyk recalled. “When I won the William T. Dwyer Award in special education, it gave me the confidence to go into leadership.”

Pasterczyk started Elbridge Gale, and she isn’t finished yet. “In the not-too-distant future, I will retire, but not just yet,” she said. “I have my passion and my love for what I do every day. My one daughter has one child, so my grandson is now a student at Elbridge Gale, and I’d like to be here for him. I have my work family and my home family. I couldn’t do what I do without the support of my assistant principal, Chad Phillips, my husband David, and the Wellington community, which embraces schools and education.”

She particularly thanked the Village of Wellington for its Keely Spinelli grant program, which gives local public schools the funds necessary to help struggling students.

“When I move on, Elbridge Gale’s extraordinary staff will carry on the tradition of excellence,” Pasterczyk said. “This school will be in good hands.”


Helping Students Change The World

Helping Students Change The World
Palm Beach Central High School’s Darren Edgecomb
Keeps His Eye On The Next Generation

Story by Deborah Welky  |  Photos by Denise Fleischman

Palm Beach Central High School became the second public high school serving Wellington when it opened in August 2003 on the north side of Forest Hill Blvd. at Lyons Road. For the past eight years, the principal has been Darren Edgecomb, a longtime Palm Beach County educator.

Having graduated from Belle Glade High School in the top five percent of his class and fresh from the University of Florida with a degree in business, Edgecomb took a job as assistant manager of the same grocery store that he had worked at as a teenager. Except this time, he was the one hiring teenagers — as cashiers, bagboys and stock crew. The year was 1987.

“I knew their parents and older siblings, and it was pretty cool talking to kids — who were doing the same things I used to do — about interviewing techniques and the management side of things,” Edgecomb recalled. “Then one day, Mr. Antoine Russell came into the shop. He was an educator, and he was about to become the principal of a new alternative school, School of Choice, opening up in Pahokee. He saw how I enjoyed teaching the teens, and he suggested I transition into teaching. He was my mentor.”

Although School of Choice was late in opening due to construction delays, Edgecomb was eager to begin his teaching career.

“I began subbing at Rosenwald Elementary School in South Bay, working with seven-year-olds and wondering what I had gotten myself into. But I loved it and, when School of Choice finally opened, I took a job there, teaching math to grades 6 through 12. Eight years later, I tried to spread my wings,” Edgecomb said. “I had been fortunate enough to have just been selected as Math Teacher of the Year for Secondary Education, and that made me feel as if could take more of a risk, move out of my comfort zone.”

Edgecomb was hired at Okeeheelee Middle School, then led by Chuck Shaw, who later went on to serve on the Palm Beach County School Board. “He gave me lots of leadership opportunities,” Edgecomb recalled. “He appointed me as a team leader — someone who rotates in as an assistant principal when an assistant principal is out — and I found I enjoyed working with adults at the same time I was working with kids. This was an opportunity to ‘sit in the chair,’ and the chair felt good.”

Edgecomb’s next stop was Royal Palm Beach High School. “I still enjoyed teaching, and I taught math there for another eight years — algebra to calculus. I loved every second of it. Then, the last year I was there, I had an opportunity to serve in a similar role as a team leader at the high school level. I got my master’s degree in educational leadership alongside my wife, Linda. I finished the admin program required by the County and then secured an assistant principal position at Seminole Ridge High School, just as it was opening up,” he said.

Edgecomb has a wealth of experience working in brand-new schools. School of Choice, Okeeheelee, RPBHS and SRHS were all opening their doors for the first time when Edgecomb arrived.

After working at Seminole Ridge for four years, he served as principal of Turning Point Academy, another alternative education school, for two years. Then it was back to Belle Glade as principal at Gove Elementary School.

“It was a blast,” Edgecomb said. “It was a dual language school, and it was also the school my own kids attended; where my wife was a former teacher. I knew all my co-workers.”

After spending three years at Gove, Edgecomb became principal at Palm Beach Central. His eight years there has brought him to a running total of 34 years with the School District of Palm Beach County.

“I’ve been blessed,” he said. “The late Antoine Russell ignited my passion, set the fuses and gave me the motivation in the community I grew up in. He talked about being a role model for young men. He made it intriguing. But my faith is definitely the biggest influence in my life. I’m an educator, and I see it almost as being in the missionary field. Educators bring hope and answers to kids who need them. I take it very seriously. We’re the greatest impact on their futures that these kids have.”

Next to his faith, Edgecomb cites his wife, Linda, as his biggest inspiration. She is the principal at Golden Grove Elementary School in The Acreage.

“I’ve been in education for 34 years and married for 34 years. We grew up together. She was my high school sweetheart. We talk every day. We’re still just as passionate about what we do, and we bounce ideas off each other,” Edgecomb said. “The greatest challenge I face is working with the kids, but that has always been the fun part, the motivating part. I also work to find the perfect mesh of how to motivate the adults. In all my experience, I’ve discovered that the way people are motivated is totally different. How can I make them each feel validated?”

At the high school level, the expectations are high, and the students are mini-adults. “It’s a delicate balance of pressure and support to get the best out of teachers for the sake of the kids, while also acknowledging that they’re the ones on the front lines, doing the heavy lifting,” he said.

The “culture” of a school is something Edgecomb studies and works to perfect. “For me, the biggest success is putting your brand on the school,” he said. “Culture translates into student success. When you have a great culture, people will run through a wall for you. That said, having been through so many places, the commonality I have found is that memories and relationships are what last. Testing, standards and classwork aside, I feel successful when I’ve achieved relationships with people. That is my greatest reward.”

Academically, Edgecomb is proud of the fact that Palm Beach Central has an A rating from the state and that graduation rates went up 2.6 percent to 97 percent despite the difficulties of the pandemic.

“I’m really thrilled about that, and the credit goes to our amazing teachers and staff members. The greatest thing about Palm Beach Central is that we’re a microcosm of society,” he said. “It’s one of the more diverse schools I’ve worked at — a tapestry of many cultures. Our almost 2,900 students are 20 percent Black; 41 percent Hispanic; 31 percent White; 14 percent of our students have disabilities; 6 percent are English Language Learners. And, even though we’re in Wellington, 56 percent receive free or reduced-price lunches. Despite that, we have a 97 percent graduation rate. Our diversity is our strength. We learn from being around other cultures. We try to connect with, include and accept everyone while still having high expectations for every student.”

He’s also proud of the school’s extra-curriculars, such as the football team that was undefeated this season going two games into the playoffs.

“In addition, there’s student government, the arts, a plethora of activities,” Edgecomb said. “There’s always something going on at the school, day and night. Our students are philanthropic. They give back to society. Right now, they’re planning a dance marathon to raise money for the Children’s Miracle Network. Pre-pandemic, they raised more than $100,000. The students are wonderful; the teachers are skilled; and the parents are super supportive.

Edgecomb has watched students evolve over the course of his 34-year career.

“Since 1988, when I started, I’ve seen many changes,” he said. “The most pronounced and obvious is the technology. It has changed how we teach and how they receive information. To capture today’s kids’ attention, you need more tools in your tool belt. And they don’t see the teacher as the person with all the answers like I did growing up. The kids want to know the ‘why’ behind everything. Everything has to be proven.”

In this way, the teacher is now more of a guide and facilitator who leads kids to the answers. “Before, teachers just told them how to do it and whether they were right or wrong,” he explained.

Professionally, Edgecomb would like to see Palm Beach Central “continuing to ride the wave of the momentum of student achievement” well into the future.

Personally, he feels blessed as a successful family man.

“My faith and family are the most important things to me,” he said. “I am blessed to have a wife with a similar career, and two daughters working in our schools. Danielle is teaching pre-kindergarten and Kamille is providing mental health support at the elementary level.”

Whether at home or at work, Edgecomb seeks to provide a living example of the value of a good education. “I tell my students, ‘Go change the world with the knowledge and opportunities you’ve had here at Palm Beach Central,’” he said.


Educating Our Future Leaders


Panther Run Elementary School Principal Edilia De La Vega Keeps Her Focus On The Hundreds Of Students In Her Care

Story by Deborah Welky | Photos by Denise Fleischman

Panther Run Elementary School has been serving students in the Wellington area for more than 30 years. The school opened in 1991 on Lake Worth Road as the primary school serving the southern areas of the quickly growing community.

Since 2017, the principal has been Edilia De La Vega. She uses her own struggles during her elementary years as motivation for the work she does to help the hundreds of Wellington students in her care.

“My parents migrated to Miami from Cuba and worked blue collar jobs here in the United States,” De La Vega recalled. “They enrolled me, their only child, in a private school run by immigrants, so I was taught in Spanish. When they moved into a more Anglo area, I entered third grade in a public school. I spoke no English and looked like I came from the Mariel Boatlift. I struggled until the fifth grade, when a teacher named Ms. Green mentored me so much that I was able to catch up. Education was very important in my family, and I graduated high school in the top 10 percent of my class.”

De La Vega remembers always wanting to be a teacher. She would spend hours teaching classes with her Barbie dolls sitting in for students.

Eventually, De La Vega earned her bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Barry University, later earning a master’s degree in ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) and her specialist degree in leadership from Nova Southeastern University. She began teaching first grade in Hialeah when she was 21 years old.

After just a year teaching there, Principal Jimmy Lee Brown suggested she look toward a leadership track. “He felt like I had a more global picture for education,” De La Vega said. “I was always trying to build goals for the school.”

Although she earned the credentials, that idea stayed on the back burner for a while. Mother to young children, she moved with her husband Ed, now assistant village manager at the Village of Wellington, to Palm Beach County 16 years ago. She started working at the Ideal School, then moved on to Equestrian Trails Elementary School.

“I’m the type of person who gives 150 percent,” De La Vega said. “I wanted to become an assistant principal, but I knew it would take a lot of time away from my family. I wanted to be able to commit to the job fully.”

When her children were older, De La Vega knew it was time. She achieved her dream and became assistant principal at Panther Run in 2011. She stayed in that post until 2017, when she was promoted to principal.

Panther Run is an A-rated school known for academic excellence. It has achieved the Five Star Award for the past 22 years, is a Green School of Excellence and has earned the Golden School Award. Fine arts are important at Panther Run, and the art program has also won many awards. The Calypso Cats steel drum band is a community favorite, as is the Symphonic Band.

Called ROAR, Panther Run’s positive support program teaches Respect, Ownership, Attitude and Responsibility. “We’re very big about teaching character traits,” De La Vega said. “We have students of the month, buddy ambassadors and we’re very big on building a strong school community. One size does not fit all. If a child is in crisis or in need, they can’t function in a classroom. We get them the help they need to do the academics. It helped us win the Resilience Award.”

She cites the current pandemic as the biggest challenge she has had to face as an educator. “It’s a huge balancing act between taking care of the community by keeping the campus and the children safe, and also meeting the social and emotional needs of our children and staff — all while making sure the school is functioning academically,” De La Vega said. “It was a little bit nerve-wracking at the beginning when we were all just figuring it out.”

De La Vega found success by “being organized, planning everything out and creating a template for all that we need to get done.” It’s a 24/7 job as she works to balance academics with the physical and mental health of both students and staff.

“Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) has taken the forefront more than ever before,” she said. “You need balance. The school will not continue to flourish without it.”

She puts a special focus on keeping the needs of her teachers front and center. “For some of our teachers, this pandemic may be the most stressful point in their careers,” De La Vega said. “There’s already a teacher shortage, and we don’t want to lose them.”

She also credits the parents for their help and support. “Our parents know the rules and regulations,” she said. “They know the policies. It builds a sense of community and ties in with our schoolwide positive support program.”

De La Vega credits Wellington’s Keely Spinelli Grant program with providing the funds needed to help lower-achieving students make gains. She feels it’s this spirit of community that propels Panther Run toward excellence.

“We have gifted, high-achieving classes; an accelerated mathematics program; our own ESOL programs for students from other countries,” she said. “We meet the needs of all the children and, ever since they started the rating system, we have been an A-rated school.”

In addition to academic awards, the school has placed first in all four Heroes for Education 5K runs, consistently attracting the most participants within the entire school district. Again, parental involvement helped.

“I may be an over-communicator, but I like to provide as much information as possible to my families,” De La Vega said. “I’m really imbedded in the Wellington community, and I’m a very transparent leader. I meet with my staff weekly to make sure our school is running efficiently, and I never make decisions in isolation.”

One of the biggest changes over the years is the technology.

“The access to technology is both good and bad,” she said. “In the classroom, it’s great. We’ve bought Smart Boards and so many great programs for our kids. On the other hand, their attention spans have shortened. We need them to be focused and engaged in our classrooms. To that end, we have several teachers certified in Google Classroom. We teach in a way that is more engaging and more competitive, that keeps them abreast of what the teachers need them to learn. We use interactive games and PowerPoint. Some kids even send me theirs to look at.”

Panther Run serves 794 students, and De La Vega makes it a point to learn each of their names. “The kids know the school’s big, so when I welcome them in the morning, they light up,” she said. “They like the connection, and they know they can talk to me. I love elementary school kids.”

De La Vega’s goal for Panther Run is “to continue to grow academically and maybe be the top school in the county. I think our children and our staff work really hard at it.”

For herself, she’d like to continue to grow in her career. “I like to think globally of how we can make things better. I’m not afraid of change,” she said. “And I love working in the Wellington area; I love the connection to my community.”

De La Vega is the mother of two children, now in their 20s, who went through the public school system in Palm Beach County. Just as she is proud of them, she is also proud of her students at Panther Run today.

“We’re building the future,” she said. “I have future doctors, future presidents in my school. People might get bogged down with what’s going on in society, but education is the most important career — building strong, capable, young humans who are socially and emotionally ready to take on the world. I may not have given birth to them, but these are my children.”


35 Years Of Middle School Excellence Lindsay Ingersoll Is Proud To Be Serving As The New Principal At Wellington Landings Middle School

35 Years Of Middle School Excellence Lindsay Ingersoll Is Proud To Be Serving As The New Principal At Wellington Landings Middle School

Story by Deborah Welky | Photos by Denise Fleischman

Wellington Landings Middle School opened in 1987 as the second public school and first middle school serving the fledgling community of Wellington. Since then, it has become a thriving academic home to generations of Wellington youth and has consistently ranked among the county’s top middle schools.

The school is currently led by Lindsay Ingersoll, who took over the role of principal not quite one year ago. Before that, she served as an assistant principal at Wellington Landings since 2012.

Ingersoll recalls having a difficult time in middle school, and that’s what led her to becoming a middle school principal.

“Elementary school was fine and dandy, and by high school, I’d found myself a little bit, but middle school was a tough time for me, as it is for many kids,” Ingersoll said. “There are so many changes in a child who comes in as an 11-year-old and leaves as a 14-year-old. They need extra love and support to get through that stage of life. When my career choices led me to education, I found myself wanting to impact as many middle school students as possible.”

Today, the students at Wellington Landings are the beneficiaries of Ingersoll’s love and support.

“When I was a kid, I wanted to become a psychologist, and I pursued that degree,” Ingersoll said. “I’m really thankful I did that because it helps me every day in my current role as principal. In the beginning, I knew I wanted to work with kids, but I was not sure where I wanted to go. A special education teaching opportunity arose at Lantana Middle School and, even though it was not my original plan, that’s where I ended up.”

Helping this unique population of students had a deep impact on her.

“As I learned more and saw that I had leadership qualities in me that were growing and becoming more expansive, I became the special education coordinator,” Ingersoll recalled. “During that period of time, I went to school to get my master’s degree, and shortly thereafter, I was offered the position of assistant principal at Wellington Landings.”

Although her entire teaching career has been in Florida, Ingersoll’s youth was spent in California.

“I grew up in Calabasas — a suburb of Los Angeles — in what resembled an old west kind of town,” she said. “It had a small-town feel, nothing like it is today. Today, it is a very different place, but it’s still fun to go back there.”

Ingersoll got her bachelor’s degree in psychology from California State University-Northridge before making the move to Florida, where she later earned her master’s degree in educational leadership from Florida Atlantic University.

“I was brought up in a house that, luckily, valued education,” she said. “My mother was a former elementary school teacher, so when I began looking at entering the field of teaching, she was excited and supportive.”

There were other key mentors along the way.

“In my career, the person who has mentored me the most is the former principal here, Blake Bennett. We were actually teachers together, so we have known each other going on 20 years,” Ingersoll said. “Blake had faith in those leadership skills I had, and when I was able to come here to work underneath her, she always challenged me to go out of my comfort zone, to garner those skills to become a better leader.”

When Bennett was named the new principal at the A.W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts, Ingersoll took over the top job at Wellington Landings in March 2021.

The past two years have been challenging times for educators, trying to balance safety with the academic needs of students.

“The challenges I come across every day are just molehills to be navigated and climbed over, but I always give challenges to myself as well,” Ingersoll said. “Like making sure I’m always a step ahead, looking outside the box, being ahead of the game, being creative and innovative in order to support our students and our staff. For the last two years, almost all of that was technology-related, but now we are trying to find a balance — a combination of what we learned during distance-learning and how we want to teach now that all our students are back on campus.”

And Ingersoll is glad the students are back — all 1,300 of them. A great many of them spent all of the last school year working remotely.

“There’s nothing to compare to having the students here in school,” she said. “Some students have the ability to be successful online, but they have to be intrinsically motivated. I’m so happy to have all our students back here.”

Wellington Landings is home to several choice academies, such as its fine arts and pre-information technology programs. It has consistently been ranked as the highest-performing non-magnet middle school in Palm Beach County for years.

“We’re very proud of that,” Ingersoll said. “Our kids continue to perform at a very high level. We’re also a Florida Five-Star School, which means that the Florida Department of Education recognizes that we continue to show evidence of exemplary community involvement. I think it’s important that I’m part of the community. Wellington is a really unique community, particularly in the support it gives our schools. The Keely Spinelli grants, for instance, help us support students who are struggling. We are able to purchase supplemental instructional tools to help those students.”

Also offering sometimes unexpected insights are Ingersoll’s own children — ages 6, 13 and 17 — who have attended Wellington schools. “It gives me a little extra insight on everything,” she laughed.

Looking back on her own middle school years, Ingersoll doesn’t think the children have changed, but some of their needs have, and the school must be sensitive to that.

“As a school, we have several problem-solving teams. We meet regularly to adjust, based on student needs. Sometimes, things in the world change. We need to make changes at that point in time,” she said. “We do that a lot through our positive behavior support (PBS) — a whole school approach to setting expectations, encouraging positivity and focusing on using those expectations to help students reach their highest potential.”

Yet the thing Ingersoll is the proudest of is the level of collaboration at Wellington Landings.

“The students, teachers, non-instructional staff, custodians, PTO and SAC all help us be successful,” she said. “We’re always collaborating together. Everybody puts their heart and their soul into making our campus what I consider to be the best place. I would like to see us continue on our tradition of excellence, making sure that we’re always creating innovative opportunities for our students. We don’t ever want to be stagnant. I am so happy to be staying here for a while. I feel like I am where I belong, and I want to put all of my focus on making sure that Wellington Landings continues to be the wonderful school that it is.”


Extraordinary Educators Four Teachers From Wellington School Honored With The Economic Council’s Newest Award

Extraordinary Educators Four Teachers From Wellington School Honored With The Economic Council’s Newest Award

They blazed trails, created a space where students could express their fears, built a sense of community and persevered despite personal heartbreak as they walked a unique tightrope between in-person learning and online classes.

They are the four Binks Forest Elementary School team members honored during this spring’s Extraordinary Educator Awards, sponsored by the Economic Council of Palm Beach County — teachers Emily MacMillan, Sally Mascia and Brandi Soto, and behavioral health professional Hope Jackson.

The awards were based on nominations and testimonials from parents. Among the county’s nearly 200 schools and more than 12,900 teachers, no other school had more than two honorees, according to the council’s Facebook page.

Of Soto, one parent reflected on the virus-driven wildfire of anxiety that scorched through the spring of 2020: “We have never felt so supported by a teacher. She made us feel stress-free during a time when everyone was switching from brick-and-mortar to online learning! … Thank you so much, dear Mrs. Soto, for the amazing, great teacher you are!”

Soto was very moved by her nomination, let alone winning the award.

“When I saw what some of the parents wrote about me, I cried,” said Soto, who grew up in Palm Beach County and has been teaching for 17 years. “Parent involvement is huge here.”

Soto, a Florida Atlantic University graduate, has been impressed by the Binks Forest faculty ever since arriving at the school eight years ago. “At Binks, going above and beyond is simply in our nature,” she said.

Such an attitude inspired the married mother of two to become a Trailblazer, a school district designation for a teacher who has volunteered for extra training in classroom technology. So, when classes for the district’s 169,000 students went online in March 2020, then returned in the fall in hybrid form — some students in class, some learning online — Soto was well equipped to handle the technical challenges and aid other teachers.

“That’s one thing about our school, teachers lift each other up and support each other,” said MacMillan, another local graduate who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from FAU. She has been teaching at Binks Forest for 10 years.

Parents think MacMillan is special, too. One wrote: “Emily exemplified her extreme care during the pandemic… Her sincere love for teaching and her students makes learning exciting.”

MacMillan, a single mother with a 13-year-old son, said the biggest challenge for her over the last 18 months was not technical but emotional.

“I’m big on creating and fostering a classroom community,” she said. “So, the biggest thing was making sure my students felt connected to me and to each other with some of them in the classroom and some of them at home.”

Enthusiasm carrying her forward, MacMillan focused on the idea that everyone is persevering through the challenges together.

“I’m a big believer in lifelong learning, and that my students aren’t there just to learn enough to get through the third grade… These students will talk about this [pandemic experience] for the rest of their lives. They’ll say, ‘Remember the year when?’”

No doubt first-grade teacher Mascia will remember this school year vividly and with no small measure of melancholy, having faced the personal pain of losing her father in September, then her mother in January to COVID-19. Despite traveling to her native Ohio for the funerals, Mascia maintained contact with her students through the Internet.

A teacher at Binks Forest since 1999, Mascia let parents know about the personal losses she had suffered and allowed them to share, or not, with their children as they thought appropriate. “First-graders need consistency,” Mascia said. “I didn’t want the deaths to hamper my teaching.”

Throughout Mascia’s personally challenging year, parents, fellow teachers and the school administration led by Principal Michella Levy were there for her.

“They’re amazing,” said Mascia, a graduate of John Carroll University in Cleveland. “The teachers pull together and support each other, personally and professionally.”

Like several of the teachers, Mascia also gave credit to the school’s very active PTA organization.

In June, Mascia retired after teaching for 35 years in Florida schools. She’s looking forward to spending time with her first grandchild.

Reflecting on the last year and a half, Mascia said, “The children were troopers. They never complained… [But] it was a challenge making sure we reached the kids at home. I’m praying we reached them.”

Parents who wrote to the Economic Council to nominate Mascia are very sure about the calm, steady difference she made: “This past year has been quite different. It has been chaotic and unsettling at times. The pandemic has been plain nerve-racking and stressful, that is, until you reach the classroom door of Ms. Mascia.”

Through all the stress, chaos, uncertainty and fear generated by the COVID-19 pandemic, Jackson was there providing emotional outlets for students, information for parents and encouragement for fellow staff members and teachers. And parents noticed, one writing: “Ms. Jackson remained bright throughout this storm of darkness surrounding her students, peers and her family.”

Jackson said her goal was to create a safe space where students could “scream, shout, cry, throw a chair if they need to, then figure out how to deal with what they’re feeling,” she said. “There is no problem so big we can’t help them.”

Of course, providing that space for students still learning from home was a challenge. “I still tried to do it with extra attention, extra check-ins with parents and virtual students,” she said.

One of the keys was letting students act out scenarios of their choosing, she explained.

“Role playing lets the students verbalize about different situations… and learn about what sort of skills are needed to cope with them,” said Jackson, a Belle Glade native who earned degrees from Bethune-Cookman and Shaw universities.

Despite Jackson’s many normal work responsibilities and mothering a blended family of seven ranging in age from 7 to 25, she found the time to write a motivational e-mail each Friday for faculty and staff, underscoring the fact that at Binks Forest, “we’re a team.”


Building For The Future Elbridge Gale Students Excel At Robotics Program With Appearance At International Invitational

Building For The Future Elbridge Gale Students Excel At Robotics Program With Appearance At International Invitational

By Deborah Welky

Small, plastic Lego bricks are ubiquitous in most homes with school-age children. The bricks are a staple of creativity for children and adults alike, evolving into much more than a toy. In fact, they are also a key component of a robotics program that teaches students STEM skills like engineering and technology.

Four years ago, Wellington’s Elbridge Gale Elementary School created a Lego Robotics team, which was an instant hit with students. It is currently operated by teachers Tara Dicurcio and Nicole Crane.

“I wanted to coach because I’m interested in robotics myself. I wanted to learn along with the kids,” Dicurcio said.

“The season typically starts in August with competitions running from February through March,” Crane added. “Last year, that was extended while everyone figured out the logistics of competing virtually.”

The teachers’ dedication propelled the school’s 2020-21 team to new heights, which included an invitation to participate in the FIRST Lego League Virtual Open International, headquartered in Greece.

The “Gator Bots” team was comprised of Corben Dicurcio, Skyler Peterson, Cristopher Martin-Aguirre, Yashasvi Rajpurohit, Colbie Phillips, Chris Powell, Oliver Parreco and Ariana Porterfield. They entered the qualifier, participating with students from Martin, Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties in an effort to receive an award and advance to regionals.

Advance, they did. The regional competition heated up with new participants from as far away as Key West and, when the dust settled, Elbridge Gale’s Gator Bots were selected by judges as one of seven Florida teams to represent the United States in Greece. They were one of just 59 teams invited from throughout the U.S., and one of only 200 selected from a worldwide pool of 350,000 competitors.

Of course, last year, no one was physically going to Greece.

“As any educator would say, it was challenging to stay engaged across multiple platforms — with some students working from home and some not,” Crane said. “It was difficult to coordinate but, at the end of the day, the pandemic may have actually worked in our favor. There are six core values that the students work on developing as part of the competition, and two of those are inclusion and teamwork. Restrictions imposed due to the pandemic helped the students to develop that core set as the season went on.”

In addition to making sure all in-person and virtual teammates felt included, the students had to wear masks, so it was difficult to understand each other at times. They also had to stay six feet apart — especially challenging when collaborating and building with tiny bricks. Wearing gloves and repeatedly sanitizing everything they touched slowed things down a bit, too.

Their coaches were there for guidance only. “It shouldn’t be me doing the project,” Dicurcio said. “Our motto around here is ‘Kid Done, Kid Fun.’ For instance, if they needed a new coding system to help put everything together, I could research a fantastic tutorial set, pull those lessons and show them step-by-step, but they’d have to figure out how to apply it. If they wanted to add a line-follower to their build, I could show them how to develop it, but they’re the ones who have to decide how to apply that knowledge to the robot.”

Sounds seamless, right?

Not always. The team experienced several setbacks along their path to glory, not the least of which was having their computer crash the day before the qualifier round. They lost all their content and had to learn the skills necessary to develop their app and rebuild in time to compete the next day. The silver lining? They received the Break-Through Award, given to the team that “faces a challenge and continues pressing forward.”

Setbacks are a part of life, and these Wellington students are now better prepared to deal with them.

“Creativity and problem-solving are two of the strongest components of the program,” Crane said. “It’s not just building and engineering skill sets; there’s a lot of technology, a lot of research. Each year, the students are learning things that I facilitate but, very often, the students know the coding and programs and vocabulary better than I do. And, if they don’t know it, they learn it faster than I can.”

In 2020-21, the robotics league program assigned a timely challenge that would require competitors to develop a solution to an existing problem — retaining health and fitness during a pandemic.

“It was a pretty good topic,” Crane said. “How do people exercise when they’re afraid to go outside? How do you incorporate space with social-distancing recess options? How can students even do PE in a distance-learning situation? The team had to find ways, so they created a survey, got the survey out there and collected data to see which direction they should go in when solving their problem. They got a crash course in learning some different strategies to do that, and watching them do their exercise was fun. It was pretty cute.”

The teachers know they are preparing their students not only for jobs but for life.

“The six core values are the guiding force for Lego Robotics — discovery, innovation, impact, inclusion, teamwork and fun,” Crane said. “Teams are judged on their use of teamwork — that their project was done together, not individually. They are taught respect and embracing differences and not leaving anyone out. They do coding, programming and public speaking. Ultimately, they built a virtual fitness trail to help people remain active during COVID-19.”

Along the way, they learned skills and had unique experiences that will be able to take with them no matter where they end up heading in life.

Visit to learn more about the FIRST Lego League program.


Wellington’s Young Black Leaders Wellington High School Creates BLAST, A New Course In Black Leadership

Wellington’s Young Black Leaders Wellington High School Creates BLAST,  A New Course In Black Leadership

By Margaret Hunt

With an aim to help build the future base of tomorrow’s Black leaders, Wellington High School has created an innovative course known as BLAST, which stands for the Black Leadership & Achievement Student Team.

When AICE math teacher Nancy Toussaint and student McKenzie Henry, then a senior, realized that Black students were under-represented in Wellington High School’s leadership programs, they both wanted to make the school more inclusive. They needed a team, but there was a problem — they had no clue that one another existed.

However, when Mike Kozlowski, a school administrator with a similar vision, approached Toussaint about meeting Henry, it led to the creation of a class for underserved Black students.

In January 2020, at the next faculty meeting, WHS Principal Cara Hayden gave her support to adding a leadership class for Black students at the school. She noted that the previous schools that she worked in all had courses designed for Black students, but when she became principal at Wellington High School, there were none. She wanted the school to be a place where minority students could thrive as well.

A follow-up faculty meeting occurred via Zoom near the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Toussaint invited Henry to attend. She wanted a student to be involved in the discussion about creating a Black leadership class.

During the meeting, the late Assistant Principal Henry Paulk created the name for the proposed class after pondering it some time. He came up with the acronym BLAST and suggested that Toussaint have an interview process for prospective students.

Toussaint eventually carried out the interviews in August 2020, when BLAST officially became a class at WHS. She worked with faculty members Audra Davis, Oscar Robinson, Suzanne Nichols and Danielle Fairclough to create an application form that the students would fill out before being approved to participate in the program.

From there, Toussaint and Henry met on Google Meet to discuss creating a commercial for the class. Henry filmed a promotional video that would later be played for the BLAST students. She used word-of-mouth to get her fellow classmates interested in joining the program, garnering the first eight students. Fairclough, a guidance counselor, located more Black students that she would e-mail the application to. The class started out with 16 founding students, but it will expand to approximately 24 students during the 2021-22 school year.

BLAST is currently offered as an honors elective at Wellington High School, available for students in grades 11 and 12. Its mission is to, “Empower Black students to create a positive mindset, achieve academic success and develop leadership skills.”

Toussaint’s vision for the class was for students to serve in a similar capacity as the Student Government Association. One of her primary goals was for the class to be student-led. Before he passed away in October 2020, Paulk’s goal was for BLAST to increase the students’ communication skills and to improve their group dynamics. It is safe to say that in its first year, the class accomplished that.

“BLAST has created a safe place for me and my friends to talk about anything,” WHS graduate Melik Frederick said. “We motivated each other every day and learned a lot from each other. Being the first year of this class, we got a lot done. Special thanks to Ms. Toussaint.”

During the 2020-21 school year, following through with her student leadership goal, Toussaint allowed the students to give their input on what they would like to be taught. BLAST students learned different leadership styles, goal setting, active listening skills, financial literacy and more. Henry was chosen to serve as president, and the seniors delegated class-officer positions among themselves. They formed groups named after tribes from different African regions and made projects about topics such as African American historical figures.

The most notable part of the class was “Free Talk Friday,” where students had an environment to discuss their opinions on current events and talk about their lives. It was from this time set aside every week that the students in the class realized that the things they had to say mattered.

“BLAST was an amazing experience and by far the best class I took at Wellington High School,” recent graduate Hermione Williams said. “It was a class where I could comfortably express how I felt about national events and learn more about my history. With the help of Ms. Toussaint, we learned that despite the stereotypes set upon us Black people by society, we all have the potential to create a path for excellence. We were more than just peers and a teacher — we were family.”

With the help of the Village of Wellington, the BLAST students were able to use their newly found voices to make an impact on their community through a series of videos that they made during Black History Month to celebrate their heritage and to speak up about topics that they were passionate about. These videos included, “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud,” “Racism,” “We Still Have Dreams” and “Black Inventors.” They were played during school and were shared throughout Wellington.

Because of their videos, six BLAST students were able to participate in the Village of Wellington’s SWAG program, which stands for Students Working to Achieve Greatness. Through this program, the students received summer internships at varying locations, along with tools to become successful in the workforce, such as interviewing pointers, financial literacy, attire and more. They met with and got advice from accomplished Black people in the community and got the opportunity to network with community leaders.

BLAST’s meetings with community organizations and school leadership classes such as the Urban League, SWAG, the Student Government Association and Latinos In Action have played a crucial role in spreading the word about the new program. So much so, that School Board Member Marcia Andrews, and Brian Knowles, manager of the Office of African, African American, Latino, Holocaust and Gender Studies for the school district, met with BLAST to discuss the expansion of the class to other schools across the county. Andrews was receptive to the proposal, and the likelihood of BLAST’s expansion is favorable.

Along with expanding the class, BLAST has internal goals for Wellington High School. The group hopes to implement programs that will help the students, such as Big Brother/Big Sister-style mentoring, conflict mediation, and dealing with student complaints and concerns. BLAST members have talked with the school’s administration about the integration of these programs and have concluded that they will take time and training to fully implement.

However, the program has shown that there are many faculty members in support of minority students in the school. In the future, BLAST aims to collaborate with other classes, clubs and student groups to make sure that every student is represented within the school’s leadership.



#1 Education Place Provides Students With Individualized Learning

#1 Education Place Provides Students With Individualized Learning

Twenty years ago, after many years of teaching in large private schools, Anita Kane found herself at a crossroads. Seeing a need in the equestrian community where she and her son, Sean, were very involved, Kane decided to start what she thought would be a tutoring service for young equestrians.

What began as a service for friends quickly grew, and she invited her friend and former co-worker Judy Blake to join her. They soon decided to set down roots and #1 Education Place, opened as a brick-and-mortar school with Kane as the head of the Upper School and Blake as the lead in the Lower School.

Many years and many students later, the school has become a lifeline for parents who find that their children do not fit into the cookie cutter of mainstream education.

“Having a more individualized learning plan helps me to keep my own pace, and the flexible schedule allows me to make time for both school and outside activities,” Class of 2021 senior Abby Estevez explained.

And Estevez has used her time to help her community. In addition to earning her Eagle Scout rank this summer, she was awarded the “My Brothers’/Sisters’ Keeper” scholarship for her noteworthy community service.

Serving grades 1 through 12, #1 Education Place has successfully navigated many students through what has become an increasingly “one size fits all” educational system.

“Many students need an environment where they can work effectively, successfully and sometimes differently than they are asked to work in a traditional school. This is where we come in,” Kane said.

With graduates heading to colleges throughout Florida and the U.S., it is apparent that the program helps create a culture of success.

The Lower School, which encompasses grades 1 through 8, is divided between elementary and middle school. Here students are encouraged to grow their executive function through decision making and learning from both their teachers and their peers. Students are encouraged to challenge their abilities and explore their interests while emphasizing the basics.

Blake pointed out that parents often comment on the ease of having one school for their child from first through 12th grades.

“It is hard to measure the immense value of having a group of teachers who know and nurture your child throughout their educational years,” she said.

This summer, #1 Education Place will be offering placement both for tutoring to combat the “summer slide,” as well as placement for the 2021-22 school year. If you are looking for a school where students actually enjoy learning and develop skills that help them function in the real world, contact #1 Education Place at (561) 753-6563.

#1 Education Place is located at 12794 W. Forest Hill Blvd., Suite 23, in Wellington. For more information, visit


The NRI Institute Of Health Sciences Educates Future Nurses And More

The NRI Institute Of Health Sciences Educates Future Nurses And More

The NRI Institute of Health Sciences is a licensed and accredited, private degree-granting post-secondary school that offers programs in registered and practical nursing, nursing assistant and diagnostic medical sonography.

The ownership team of Chief Administrative Officer Dan Splain and his wife Dr. Elizabeth Stolkowski, who serves as president and director of the nursing program, work with a highly qualified staff to prepare students as quality medical caregivers, helping these students discover their own opportunities to serve in the healthcare field.

Both Splain and Stolkowski have extensive healthcare backgrounds in the U.S. and internationally, including hospital administration, managed care, nursing education and the international recruitment of healthcare professionals.

“We started out with eight students, and last semester we had 112,” Splain said. “Some go to work at Palms West Hospital and a number go to Wellington Regional Medical Center, as well as various hospitals on the Gold Coast and the Treasure Coast. We even have some teaching in fine institutions all over the country.”

Growing from an initial small location in West Palm Beach to the 13,500-square-foot facility in Royal Palm Beach, NRI offers two post-secondary school degrees: associate of sciences in nursing and associate of applied science in diagnostic medical sonography. The school added a medical assistant diploma this spring.

“Even before the pandemic, there was a nationwide shortage of one million nurses,” Splain said. “County residents are predominately people over 65, with more in season, so the need is great locally.”

He added that the reputation of NRI and the way the school provides personal attention to the students helps them to pass the state license exam, offering them a high level of confidence that they will be employed right out of school.

Stolkowski’s responsibilities focus on the education aspects of the school to deliver the promised education to the student population, orchestrating the right faculty and the right learning to qualify good nurses so they get licensed. “We are small, so we are quick and innovative, and we make sure the students’ success comes first,” Stolkowski explained.

Dr. M.J. Duthie is a highly skilled nursing educator who teaches five classes per week at the NRI Institute in health and anatomy, and also handles the upper level administrative and clinical needs.

“Our instructors were educated at some of the top 10 colleges and major universities in the nation,” Duthie said. “It is so nice to have the responsibilities and rigors of the larger, high-powered schools here in a smaller, more private setting. We have the same standards as the larger schools for our students here in a two-year, four-semester situation.”

The NRI Institute of Health Sciences is located at 500 Royal Palm Beach Blvd. in the Royal Plaza. For more information, call (561) 688-5112 or visit


Wellington Preparatory School Offers A Unique Educational Experience

Wellington Preparatory School Offers A Unique Educational Experience

The Wellington Preparatory School is a coeducational, non-sectarian private school teaching pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. Its mission is to deliver a top academic education while providing supportive co-curricular activities.

Looking ahead to the next school year, Wellington Preparatory School will continue to offer face-to face instruction with a commitment to keeping a focus on the health and safety of students, faculty, families and the community.

Wellington Prep is committed to making the school accessible to a wide range of families by not only offering the traditional on-campus classroom experience, but also by offering a distance learning program to approved families with reasons that necessitate virtual instruction.

For the 2021-22 school year, Wellington Prep expects that the school experience will begin to feel more like it was prior to the pandemic. However, many health protocols will still be in place, such as limiting visitors into buildings and limiting large gatherings. The school will continue to follow all recommendations from the CDC and the local health department. Meanwhile, school officials have worked closely with local health partners to ensure that faculty members have been given the opportunity to become fully vaccinated.

The school is planning great opportunities for the 2021-22 school year, including an accelerated academic program that not only concentrates on the core subjects but also on the importance of arts in students’ everyday academic experience.

School hours are 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Parents can drop off their students in the front of the school with a teacher or administrator. A car line is operated at the end of the day for student pickup. Wellington Prep also offers before care starting at 6:15 a.m. and after care until 6:15 p.m. After care includes homework help, tutoring, outside activities and a snack.

The school operates on a trimester system and does not follow the public-school calendar. All students are required to wear uniforms and must also purchase or rent a violin.

After school clubs and activities vary by trimester, typically operating from 3 to 4 p.m., immediately after school. These opportunities include chess, art, social club, Spanish club, private violin lessons and private language lessons.

The admissions team welcomes all prospective families, including those who are just beginning their search for a unique school community. Wellington Prep is currently accepting applications for grades K through 8. Prospective parents and students are invited to call to schedule an in-person tour. Contact the admissions office at (561) 649-7900 for more information.

Wellington Prep’s main campus is located at 9135 Lake Worth Road in suburban Lake Worth. The high school campus is located at 12300 South Shore Blvd. in Wellington. For more info., visit