Category Archives: Wellington Education

EDUCATION Choosing A School For Your Child Plays A Pivotal Role In Shaping Their Future

EDUCATION Choosing A School For Your Child Plays A Pivotal Role In Shaping Their Future

In today’s rapidly changing world, the importance of selecting the right school for your child cannot be overstated. In navigating the choices, it is essential to recognize that education plays a pivotal role in shaping the future of today’s students and preparing them for the challenges that lie ahead.

The right school fosters an environment that nurtures your child’s unique abilities, interests and passions. It provides them with the necessary tools to develop intellectually, emotionally and socially. In an ever-changing landscape, where technological advancements and global challenges are reshaping industries and economies, the right education can equip children with the skills they need to thrive.

One of the key considerations in selecting a school is the curriculum. In 2023, the emphasis is shifting toward cultivating critical thinking, problem-solving and adaptability. Look for schools that offer innovative programs integrating technology, project-based learning and interdisciplinary approaches. These elements empower students to become creative thinkers and lifelong learners.

Furthermore, the school’s culture should align with the needs of your family. A nurturing and inclusive environment promotes collaboration, empathy and respect among students, enabling them to develop strong interpersonal skills and cultural competence.

Equally important is the availability of extracurricular activities. A well-rounded education includes opportunities for sports, arts, music and community service. These activities foster teamwork, leadership and a sense of belonging, while allowing children to explore beyond the classroom.

Additionally, consider the school’s resources, facilities and teaching staff. Adequate resources and modern facilities support effective learning experiences, while well-qualified educators create a positive and engaging educational atmosphere.

The choice of a school for your child has long-term implications. It is an investment in their future success and happiness. By selecting a school that values their individuality, cultivates their skills and prepares them for the evolving world, you are setting them on a path toward a fulfilling and prosperous life.



An Array Of Educational Options

An Array Of Educational Options The Original Wellington Mall Is Home To Three Unique Private Schools

In addition to its six public elementary schools, three middle schools and two high schools, Wellington is also home to a number of charter schools and private schools. A small cluster of these private schools can be found in one building — the original Wellington Mall at 12794 W. Forest Hill Blvd. These include #1 Education Place, the Wellington Collegiate Academy and the Children’s House of Wellington.

The heart and soul of #1 Education Place is its founders Judy Blake and Anita Kane. They started the private school more than 20 years ago. They got their start in education by working together as tutors.

Early on, most of their students were affiliated with Wellington’s equestrian industry. Now, while there are still many equestrians, the students come from a wide array of backgrounds, ranging from first grade to 12th grade. Student numbers vary, from as many as 100 students during the equestrian season, to a low in the 50s at other times of the year.

According to Blake, the teaching model at #1 Education Place produces great results. “We are a Montessori school,” Blake said. “And we are open 12 months a year.”

Teachers at #1 Education Place emphasize independence and executive function. According to Blake, when students learn executive function, they learn organizational skills, personal responsibility, how to organize their day and how to master life as an adult. They also learn all the core subjects taught at conventional schools.

Blake explained that students who attend #1 Education Place spend time learning about core communications.

“We have a big emphasis on writing, especially in high school,” Kane said. “We also focus on cursive writing, penmanship, grammar, spelling and English comprehension.”

In most schools, teachers set the course and direction for the school day. At #1 Education Place, the students are given more freedom to pursue their own areas of interest.

“We have a calmer environment than many other schools,” Kane said. “Also, we make a point of addressing the needs of each student as an individual. Nobody gets left behind.”

The teaching environment is peaceful and filled with purpose.

“We have all open spaces, no closed doors and there’s freedom of movement for everybody,” Blake said. “Here, students are interested in doing, learning and accomplishing. There are no rewards or punishments, but plenty of positive reinforcement. In many cases, we provide a few minutes of instruction, and then let the students do the work.”

#1 Education Place also supports flexibility when it comes to arriving at school and leaving school later in the day.

Blake explained that flexible schedules are important for students who have serious interests in other endeavors such as tennis, golf and equestrian sports, which require unique travel and practice time.

For elementary and middle school students, physical activity breaks are an important part of the school day, which includes 30 minutes of recess daily. From time to time, students get to go on field trips.

Upon graduation, most of the students continue on to higher education. According to Kane, several of this year’s high school graduates will be attending Hofstra University (and playing tennis), the University of Kentucky (and playing polo), Florida Atlantic University and Palm Beach Atlantic University.

“A high percentage of our students get accepted into their first-choice universities and colleges,” Kane said.

To learn more about #1 Education Place, call (561) 753-6563 or visit

The Wellington Collegiate Academy (WCA) educates children from kindergarten to eighth grade, enrolling 70 to 75 students. As of mid-May, it’s under new ownership, led by the husband-and-wife team of Horatio and Yaa McFarlane.

“We are looking forward to creating our own vision of education,” Yaa said. “Here, children will love to learn and feel amazing about themselves. I want to develop independent thinkers.”

“We’re excited to be adding to the lives of our students and supporting them in their education,” Horatio added.

While not teaching, Yaa will have a strong presence at the school.

“I will have a presence in the office, in the classroom and on the playground,” she said.

Yaa was born, raised and educated in England at a grammar school. She intends to bring a few English educational traditions to WCA.

“Our students will learn about William Shakespeare, and I want them to know who Charles Dickens was,” Yaa said.

While there will be some changes to the curriculum, many WCA traditions will remain the same.

“The main subjects such as English, mathematics, world geography, science and a language, such as Spanish, will continue,” Yaa said. “We are thinking about adding another language, as well.”

In addition to traditional subjects, there will be a strong emphasis on physical education, home economics, music and the arts.

“Physical education will include dance, team sports and running,” Yaa said. “We need to get our children running and incorporate P.E. into the daily curriculum.”

The students will also be introduced to gardening. “Children need to learn where foods come from,” Yaa noted.

Right now, the school has 10 teachers on the staff, and there are plans to add more for the upcoming school year.

The school’s commitment to music — which was a focal point of attention of the previous owners Juan Carlos and Jessica Valdez — will remain the same. In fact, Jessica Valdez, previously the choral director, has pledged her assistance to find an equally talented successor. “Music is so important as it helps the brain develop, improves a child’s ability to learn, be more creative and sleep better,” Yaa said.

Another aspect that will not change is the student-teacher ratio. In recent years, it has been eight to 12 students per teacher. That will remain the same.

Yaa is not a newcomer to the school, as she served as a teacher from 2016 to 2019, when the school’s founder Anna Oaks operated the school.

“Anna was looking for a ‘right-hand’ person, so I was asked to join her, which I did,” Yaa said. “I am still aligned with her vision of a small, faith-based school.”

Over the summer, the McFarlanes will be busy marketing and promoting the school to parents of current and prospective students.

“We are building a new web site, and we plan to offer a one-week summer camp program to current and new students,” Yaa said. “We will teach math, science, arts and crafts. We will possibly work with robotics and computers. There will also be lots of time for recess and sports.”

To learn more about the Wellington Collegiate Academy, call (561) 701-3462 or (561) 784-1776, or visit

The Children’s House of Wellington, co-owned by Catherine Williams and her daughter Jeri Williams, is a Montessori preschool now finishing its 20th year.

“I was at a Montessori preschool in Palm Beach Gardens,” Catherine recalled. “After it was sold to a new owner, they started to stray from core principles of the Montessori Method. I decided that if I wanted to continue doing what I love, I needed to open my own school.”

While the Children’s House of Wellington is licensed to teach as many as 44 students, they prefer to have fewer, capping out at about 40. Students range from age two-and-a-half to age six.

The big difference between a conventional school and a Montessori school is the overall approach to education.

“One of the hallmarks of Montessori education is that children of mixed ages work together. Groupings are based on the Planes of Development as identified by Dr. Maria Montessori,” Jeri explained. “Multi-age groupings enable younger children to learn from older children and experience new challenges through observation. Older children reinforce their learning by teaching concepts they have already mastered, develop leadership skills and serve as role models. Because each child’s work is individual, children progress at their own pace. There is cooperation rather than competition. This arrangement mirrors the real world, in which individuals work and socialize with people of all ages and dispositions.”

When it comes to the flow of the school day, there’s a great deal of thought given to what is done at any given time.

“The teacher prepares the environment of the Montessori classroom with carefully selected, aesthetically arranged materials that are presented sequentially to meet the developmental needs of the children using the space,” Jeri said. “Well-prepared Montessori environments contain appropriately sized furniture, a full complement of Montessori materials, and enough space to allow children to work in peace, alone, or in small or large groups.”

Montessori classrooms are designed to encourage children to move about freely and choose their own work, within reasonable limits. Those limits are the classroom ground rules and enable children to exercise their own free will while ensuring that their chosen activities are respectful of others.

“Within the prepared environment of the Montessori classroom, children are taught to complete a work cycle, which includes choosing an activity, completing the activity, and, perhaps, repeating the full sequence of the activity multiple times, cleaning up and returning the materials to the proper place, and experiencing a sense of satisfaction to have fully completed the task,” Catherine said.

A common trait of a Montessori school is a focus on social skills.

“In Montessori schools, children are formally instructed in social skills that they will use throughout their lives. For example, saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you,’ interrupting conversations politely, requesting rather than demanding assistance and greeting guests warmly,” Jeri said.

Students also learn about Mother Nature. “We are fortunate to have a garden at our school,” Jeri said. “The children plant seeds, bulbs and bedding plants. We harvest and enjoy the beauty of what grows. A respect for all living things is important to learn early.”

At the Children’s House of Wellington, students are given a regular dose of physical activity on the school’s playground.

“Playing outside is important,” Catherine said. “Learning to play with friends without hurting them and still having fun are skills that can only be learned by doing.”

To learn more about the Children’s House of Wellington, call (561) 790-3748 or visit


American Heritage Leads U.S. In STEM

American Heritage Leads U.S. In STEM Local Students Win Prestigious Science, Math And Engineering Awards

By Melanie Hoffman

As the world continues to advance technologically, American Heritage Schools keeps pace with the global shift by integrating a culture of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) into its comprehensive and rigorous curriculum.

Founded in 1965, American Heritage Schools (AHS) is a nationally ranked college preparatory school with two 40-acre campuses in South Florida serving grades Pre-K3 through 12. The 4,800 students represent more than 60 different countries, more than 70 percent of the faculty holds a postgraduate degree and the student-to-faculty ratio is 5-to-1.

AHS alumni are notable leaders in their fields who are generating positive differences in the world. Dylan Cahill graduated from the AHS Palm Beach campus in 2014, from Dartmouth College in 2018 and is attending Harvard Medical School.

“American Heritage prepared me for college academics,” Cahill said. “Though I didn’t realize it at the time, the study strategies I developed in challenging classes at AHS helped make my transition into the demands of college life much smoother.”

Ranked among the top private schools in the State of Florida in STEM according to Niche, the leader in digital searches for the best K-12 schools and colleges, the students at AHS recently earned high honors in STEM, including No. 1 in Florida at the state science fair, No. 1 and No. 2 private school in Florida in math competition, and No. 1 in Florida in robotics competition.

The American Heritage Science Research Institute for select students in grades six through 12 enables students to conduct research on real-world problems, and in turn, they have earned international recognition for their findings.

The range of equipment in the science lab is unlike any other high school — fluorescent and inverted microscopes, UV/Vis plate reader (a spectrophotometer), a carbon dioxide incubator, a minus 86-degree freezer, a liquid nitrogen cryogenic tank and a scanning electron microscope, just to name a few.

“When our students graduate, they are equipped with a level of research knowledge they would not normally have without the opportunities presented in our program,” said Dr. Iris Thompson, director of science research at the AHS Palm Beach campus. “This sets them apart from their peers when applying to college or graduate school.”

Nolan Wen, a senior at the Palm Beach campus, published his science research as first author, which is an unusual feat for a high school student. His research was titled, “Development and characterization of laponite-enhanced tannic acid-based hydrogels,” in the Materials Letters journal. Wen will be attending the University of Pennsylvania in the fall and was accepted to the school’s highly competitive seven-year bio-dental program.

“The rigorous course offerings and programs at American Heritage not only helped me get into Penn but have also prepared me well for life at Penn,” Wen said. “The BSL-2 level labs and incredible summer research program at American Heritage have provided me the platform to conduct graduate-level research and become an accomplished young researcher (published three times, Regeneron International Science and Engineering Finalist and Regeneron Science Talent Search Finalist). As vice president of Model UN, president of the TASSEL Cambodia Heritage branch, and a member of Education Rocks and various national honor societies, I have been able to both embrace the school community and make a positive difference on a global scale. I’ve had an incredible four years at American Heritage and cannot wait to continue my education at UPenn.”

The mathematics departments at both AHS campuses are equally strong. Starting in the Lower School, honors courses and honors math competition classes are offered for accelerated math students in fourth through sixth grades. This early learning enables the students to learn higher-level critical thinking and problem solving. The school earned the ranking of No. 1 elementary school in Florida and No. 2 private elementary school in the U.S. in math competition, and many of those students advance to the high school level with great success. Both the Broward and Palm Beach math teams at American Heritage ranked No. 1 and No. 2 private school at the Florida Association of Mu Alpha Theta (FAMAT) statewide math competition.

“The American Heritage Schools competitive math program has been an amazing place to foster my love for mathematics and meet other kids who enjoy the STEM fields as much as I do,” said Sharvaa Selvan, a senior at the AHS Broward campus and vice president for the state and national Mu Alpha Theta student delegates. “Our victory at the February statewide was a testament to the countless hours spent by both the students and our amazing coaches over the past few months.”

Selvan has been accepted to the prestigious universities MIT and Georgia Tech.

“Our win at the NSU statewide competition demonstrates the enormous collection of mathematical giftedness of the members of our math competition team,” said Dr. Radleigh Santos, competitive mathematics head coach and an MIT graduate. “I’m proud of all their hard work, and I’m looking forward to their future success.”

In the field of robotics and engineering, the AHS Wyld Stallyns team at the Palm Beach campus qualified for the World Robotics Championship in Houston. The team also won the Creativity Award sponsored by Rockwell Automation.

Senior Dylan McClish is a top student in the AHS pre-engineering program at the Palm Beach campus and was accepted to Princeton, Yale, the University of Pennsylvania, Dartmouth, Brown, Cornell, Columbia, Michigan and the U.S. Naval Academy.

“I’ve been at American Heritage for seven years, and I am forever thankful for how much it has prepared me for college,” McClish said. “It has allowed me to take a vast array of college-level courses that other high schools don’t offer, such as multivariate calculus/differential equations, learning math that many don’t see until they are a few years into college. I have been part of the pre-engineering and science research programs, and it has been fantastic to pursue my interests in AI and robotics with the full support of the school’s amazing faculty and resources. It has been a lot of hard work, but I know that I will be well prepared for college, and I am grateful that American Heritage has given me the tools to succeed at the collegiate level.”

American Heritage Schools is ranked No. 1 in National Merit Scholars out of all schools in Florida and the No. 2 private school in the nation. The students from both campuses comprise 10 percent of all National Merit Scholarship semifinalists throughout the 2,227 public and private schools in Florida.

American Heritage Schools is open all year at both campuses. It also provides an extensive summer program from June to August for children and teens ages 3 to 17 from all over the world. The offerings include traditional day camps, specialty and sports camps, the Summer Institute, available in-person and online with more than 100 courses designed for every student’s interest, and 1-on-1 tutoring. The comprehensive summer enrichment ensures that students are prepared or ahead for the next school year and gives them a competitive advantage to succeed.

American Heritage Schools will continue to set high standards for growth and learning and prepare the next generation of global thinkers and problem solvers to succeed.

To learn more about American Heritage Schools, visit


Get Your Nursing Degree Locally

Get Your Nursing Degree Locally NRI Institute Of Health Sciences Working To Reduce Nation’s Nursing Shortage

By Mike May

Residents of Palm Beach County, specifically those living in the western communities who want to work as a nurse, have a locally owned and operated school where they can acquire the necessary qualifications to get a job in the nursing profession. They can get their nursing degree from the NRI Institute of Health Sciences, based in Royal Palm Beach.

The NRI Institute is a fully licensed and accredited private degree-granting and post-secondary school that is qualified to prepare students for a career in registered and practical nursing, as a nursing assistant, a medical assistant, and in the field of diagnostic medical sonography. Starting next year, students will be able to get a four-year bachelor’s of science degree in nursing from the NRI Institute.

Located at 503 Royal Palm Beach Blvd. in the Royal Plaza at the corner of Royal Palm Beach and Southern Boulevards, the NRI Institute currently has a 12,500-square-foot facility it calls home. When it opened in 2012, it had just 1,000 square feet of space and eight students. Now, it has 125 students with room for as many as 150 students. Since 2012, more than 400 students have graduated from the NRI Institute of Health Sciences.

The owners of the NRI Institute are the husband-and-wife team of Dan Splain and Elizabeth Stolkowski. Splain is the chief administrative officer, and Stolkowski is in charge of operating the school as the president and director of the nursing programs.

Both Splain and Stolkowski are well qualified to operate the school due to their extensive experience in the healthcare field. This includes working in hospital administration, managed care, nursing education and the international recruitment of healthcare professionals. For a number of years, the two of them operated a managed care facility in the Midwest, where they recruited nurses from overseas.

Stolkowski, a native of The Philippines, has three master’s degrees and a law degree.

“She is well qualified to oversee the academic side of the NRI Institute of Health Sciences,” Splain said.

What’s really important about Stolkowski’s role at the NRI Institute is her ability to get the students to cross the “finish line,” so to speak.

“Elizabeth has a talent for coaching students and getting them to pass the Nursing Council Licensure Examination,” Splain said. “After passing the exam, our graduates can then start working as nurses, where their starting salaries can range between $75,000 and $100,000 a year.”

Splain noted that there’s a great need for more nurses across the United States. That’s especially the case in Florida because of the large number of residents who are over the age of 65. Here in Palm Beach County, the number of residents over 65 expands greatly during the winter months.

This need for more nurses seems more acute now, but it is not a recent issue.

“Even before the pandemic, there was a nationwide shortage in the U.S. of more than one million nurses,” Splain said. “We still have a nursing shortage in this country.”

Many of the graduates of the NRI Institute of Health Sciences find employment in the western communities at facilities such as Wellington Regional Medical Center and Palms West Hospital, as well as many smaller medical offices and facilities. A number of graduates also land jobs in other Florida cities. And, of course, many of the nursing graduates get hired in other parts of the U.S.

“A large number of our graduates get jobs at Wellington Regional Medical Center because that’s where they do their clinical rotations,” Splain said. “They do such a great job during their clinical rotations at Wellington Regional that some are offered jobs before they even graduate.”

According to Splain, some graduates actually return to the classroom as instructors.

“We even have some graduates teaching in fine institutions all over the U.S.,” Splain said. “The nursing shortage in the U.S. can also be attributed to a shortage of nursing instructors.”

Time wise, getting a degree from the NRI Institute will usually take two years. The clinical rotations are interspersed with the classroom work. There are 12 faculty members, and the classroom sizes are usually eight to 10 students per instructor.

“We like to keep it small and teach them well,” Splain said.

According to Stolkowski, many of the students at the NRI Institute are not what you normally expect.

“We have many non-traditional students enrolled,” Stolkowski said. “We have students in their teens, 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s. Many have families, as well as being enrolled full-time in school. Roughly 85 percent of our students are female.”

In addition to a wide age-range of nursing candidates, they also come from all parts of Palm Beach County, as well as Broward, Martin and St. Lucie counties. “A handful of students travel here from as far away as Vero Beach,” she said.

One aspect of being a student at the NRI Institute is the in-person educational experience.

“We don’t have any online classes,” Splain said. “You really need to have the hands-on academic experience in our classrooms to learn how to be a nurse.”

The NRI Institute of Health Sciences will hold its 10th commencement exercises on Thursday, June 8 at 5 p.m. at the Royal Palm Beach Cultural Center. Thirty nursing and diagnostic medical sonography graduates will receive their degrees. The guest speaker will be Dante Mitchell Tolbert, founder and CEO of Florence Technologies, which is an innovative edtech company that aims to combat the nursing shortage through solutions driven by artificial intelligence.

To learn more about the NRI Institute of Health Sciences, call (561) 688-5112 or visit


Gaining The Competitive Edge

Gaining The Competitive Edge How Wellington Students Can Sow The Seeds Of Success Over The Summer

Story by Jaime Joshi Elder |  Photos by Matt De Santa

Living in South Florida means no shortage of summer activities for high school students. Beating the heat by spending time on the water or visiting one of the state’s numerous theme parks provide a great chance to unwind, but summertime can also mean opportunity for high school students seeking to gain a competitive edge and secure acceptance to their dream college.

“Colleges not only want to see that a student is committed to extracurriculars throughout the school year, but they also look for evidence that students are developing their interests and stretching themselves during the summer, as well,” said Dr. Sapneil Parikh, principal and founder of Sapneil Tutoring.

An ardent believer in lifelong learning, Parikh graduated summa cum laude from the University of Florida with a degree in finance and business administration. He earned his first master’s degree in public health from Florida International University and a second master’s degree in interdisciplinary studies from Touro College. He then went on to earn his dental degree from the LECOM School of Dental Medicine and completed a two-year general practice residency specializing in oral medicine and surgery from East Carolina University and Cornell University.

Parikh is also fluent in reading, writing and speaking Spanish.

If there is one thing that Parikh understands, it’s education, and he knows that the time spent outside of the classroom is just as important as the time students spend in the classroom.

“High school freshmen, sophomores and juniors might want to introduce an advanced class using FLVS or take courses through Coursera or edX,” he suggested. “In addition to offering the chance to earn professional certificates, these sites offer courses in many subjects from data science to American poetry. Students can participate in real time or watch past lectures from professors at schools like Harvard, MIT, Stanford and Yale.”

Incoming sophomores and juniors should start thinking about the SAT and ACT and how to best prepare for success.

Research shows that students who participate in tutoring not only build a foundation for successful work habits that will guide them through their educational journey, but they also have a distinct academic advantage over their non-tutored peers.

A study conducted by San Bernardino Valley College showed that students who received one-on-one tutoring saw an average increase of 12 percent in their standardized test scores and outperformed non-tutored students in STEM courses such as biology, computer science, chemistry and math.

“Students in 10th grade may want to introduce themselves to SAT assessments to increase their comfort with the process of preparing for standardized exams,” Parikh said. “The SAT is going digital in 2024, and it would be a good idea for students to familiarize themselves with the changes for that. The test will be shorter, there will be two sections instead of four, and it is vital to note that students will not be able to see their battery percentage while in the digital testing app, and that test centers are not obligated to provide power to every student. Prepare accordingly and make sure your device is fully charged in advance. Preparation on all fronts.”

Academics aren’t the only avenues worth pursuing. Parikh strongly advocates that students diversify and look to community service, research, and business or entrepreneurship to flesh out their applications.

“Colleges look for evidence that students are developing their interests and stretching themselves during the summer,” he said. “Whether a student wants to explore a new activity or build on a current interest, there are so many options available.”

Jobs, internships and volunteer work serve as a chance to stand out as well as leave an indelible impression.

Getting a summer job or internship shows a level of maturity and responsibility as well as the willingness to be part of a team, while community service not only showcases a passion for a cause and a sense of civic duty, but also serves as a chance to grow personally, increase self-confidence and network with like-minded individuals.

For students interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields, Parikh recommended contributing to a research project.

In addition to consulting with the school’s guidance counselor to see what opportunities are available, students should also reach out to local labs, universities and hospitals to see who is seeking student support.

“Participation in research projects can help advance chances for competitive colleges and universities,” Parikh said. “Research provides focus and showcases that the student is trying to be part of the problem-solving process. Who knows? You may even be the first or second author on a publication!”

While Parikh focuses heavily on academics, he is quick to note that learning is a lifelong process that is continually occurring. He encourages students to look beyond the borders of their comfort zone and travel if possible.

“In addition to being a great way to relax and detach, traveling with family and friends can help you become more well-rounded as an individual and can even serve you academically depending on where you go,” he said.

Summer is just around the corner, and with a little planning and balance, high school students can have it all — enjoying some well-deserved time off and preparing for the bright future ahead.

Learn more about Sapneil Tutoring at


Our School Grants Accomplish Crucial Goal

Our School Grants Accomplish Crucial Goal $11,000 In Grants Were Distributed To All 11 Wellington Schools’ Arts Departments In 2022

This year’s Wellington Schools feature series in Wellington The Magazine was presented in conjunction with the Wellington Community Foundation’s “Our Schools” grant program.

The WCF Board of Directors — including Chair Tom Wenham, Vice Chair Maria Becker, Treasurer Hope Barron, Secretary Jim Sackett, and directors Joanna Boynton, Dr. Gordon Johnson, Barry Manning, James Seder, Pam Tahan and Maggie Zeller — voted unanimously at the start of the year to present this grant to all 11 public schools in Wellington, specifically to be used throughout the “arts departments” in 2022. Wellington The Magazine followed the progress along the way, featuring one of the schools each month throughout 2022, speaking with the principal at each school and learning more about that school.

Wellington Regional Medical Center hosted a special breakfast event for the principals and other Wellington school representatives in January to launch this innovative program. The principals were invited by the Wellington Community Foundation as the recipients of the “Our Schools” grant, through which the foundation supported the fine arts departments at each school.

Although the arts are usually among the first departments in schools to have budgets slashed, Wellington schools still have a robust arts program to offer, and the WCF board wanted to ensure that this grant can help keep that in place.

Johnson added that music, drawing and other artistic activities engage students and give them avenues to use their creativity in ways the academic classrooms do not. Manning agreed. “All of our students need outlets, especially during these challenging times,” he said.

Tahan, who also serves as CEO of Wellington Regional Medical Center, offered to host the special breakfast in the Community Conference Room on the hospital’s campus, and the new annual principal’s breakfast was born.

Tahan and her staff did a wonderful job organizing and preparing the room, the menu, and takeaway gifts for all the principals. The buffet-style breakfast included a made-to-order omelet station with all the fixings, French toast casserole, bacon, sausage, kielbasa, home fries with peppers and onions, fresh fruit, assorted Danishes, and coffee, water and freshly squeeze orange juice.

The principals and other school representatives, along with the foundation board members, including two newly elected board members, Michael Gauger and Donald Gross, were welcomed with opening remarks by WRMC Chief Operating Officer John Mark Atchley, who thanked everyone for taking the time out of their busy schedules and joining in on this breakfast prepared just for them.

Wenham, chair of the foundation, also thanked everyone for coming and thanked the WRMC team for putting on a great event. He went on to thank each of the schools for all that they are doing for the community’s children.

“We know it has been hard,” he said, adding that events like the breakfast serve to further enhance and better the community’s understanding of Wellington’s schools. “Coming together like this is something we should consider doing more often.”

Becker, who recently stepped down as vice chair of the foundation, noted the happy reason for the day’s event.

“Today, we were able to bring together representatives from all of our local schools and award them money that they can now use to help fund a part of the budget that is often overlooked, the arts,” she said. “The arts provide a needed outlet for students at a time when they need it most. I’m excited to see how each school uses the funds to enrich the lives of their students. This morning has been a classic example of what makes our village an amazing community for families with children.”

The foundation’s “Our Schools” grants have been awarded for the past five years with a different concentration of spending, varying from elementary after school programs to middle school requests for laptops to additional tutoring staff to assisting students needing help affording the annual safety patrol trip.

The grants have targeted either elementary schools, middle schools or high schools independently each year. But this year, the board felt it was necessary to fund every Wellington school — and found the budget to do so.

The foundation recently passed a 2023 budget that once again includes funding for all 11 schools. The foundation will work with school principals to identify another area from each school that can utilize the grant dollars to benefit Wellington students.

These projects are only made possible through the hundreds of generous donors, annual sponsors and volunteers that continue to support Wellington’s neighbors through the leadership of the Wellington Community Foundation and its board of directors. It is just one way that the community continues to show up and help its most vulnerable members — children, seniors and veterans.

For additional information about this “Our Schools” grant project, and other foundation projects, visit


A Fine Arts Academy And Much More

A Fine Arts Academy And Much More Wellington’s Oldest School Continues To Thrive Under Principal Dr. Maria Vaughan

By Deborah Welky

Wellington Elementary School was the first public school built in the young community of Wellington back in 1981, opening its doors with 13 educators teaching grades three to six under the direction of the legendary Principal Buz Spooner and Assistant Principal Marge Mosser.

Spooner went on to lead Wellington Elementary for 20 years before he retired, setting up a school culture that continues to thrive today. Since 2014, the school has been led by Principal Dr. Maria Vaughan.

Vaughan grew up in London, England, and received her bachelor’s degree from Kingston University there. In 1996, she moved to the United States to live closer to her parents, continuing her education at Nova Southeastern University, where she received both her master’s and doctoral degrees.

“I moved to Florida because of the beautiful weather and family connections here,” Vaughan said, adding that she moved to the western communities in 2019.

In London, Vaughan attended what is called “primary” school there, here known as elementary.

“I loved my primary school!” she recalled. “However, after I left and went on to secondary school, I realized that there were many gaps in my education and, because of this, I struggled — specifically in the area of math.”

As often happens, it only took one dedicated and inspirational educator to turn things around.

“A teacher named Ms. Okikiolu took me under her wing and tutored me one-on-one after school,” Vaughan said. “She was the most patient and kind teacher I had ever had. If it was not for her, I would have been unable to pass the exams needed to go to college to become a teacher.”

And a teacher is what Vaughan wanted to be, even as a child.

“Once I became a teacher, I started to think about how I could have a greater impact on student learning, and how I could help other teachers to develop their potential,” Vaughan said. “So, I became a team leader, and that was the beginning of my road to becoming a principal.”

That is what first brought her to the western communities.

“After being an elementary and middle school teacher for 20 years, I was fortunate to be promoted to assistant principal at H.L. Johnson Elementary School in Royal Palm Beach,” Vaughan said. “I was then promoted as an instructional support team leader (ISTL) for the south and west area offices. I served in that position for three years and was then promoted to be the principal at Wellington Elementary School.”

She didn’t know it yet, but when she started down that road as a team leader, she was about to meet a key mentor.

“Dr. Matthew Shoemaker has had the biggest influence on my career,” Vaughan said. “He was the west area superintendent, and I worked under him. As a leader, he would take the time to mentor me and share his reasoning behind decisions. He demonstrated what it means to be a servant leader and led with the ethos that we should always make decisions that are in the best interest of students. I have adopted that philosophy as a leader, and that is what guides my decision making.”

And for an elementary school principal, what could be in the best interest of students more than choosing top-notch teachers? However, it’s not always easy.

“The biggest challenge I face as a principal is the severe teacher shortage that we are now facing nationwide,” Vaughan said. “I have tried to combat this by, firstly, making sure that we retain the teachers we have and, secondly, by being proactive in finding and hiring new teachers.”

Attracting and retaining students is another challenge that one does not usually consider when talking about elementary education in public schools. Yet Vaughan ranks this as one of the highlights of her tenure.

“One area that we here at Wellington Elementary have been successful in is attracting students back to a public school who had otherwise chosen charter or private schools,” she said. “The opening of our fine arts academy has helped with this, as it offers a variety of programs that encourage and foster artistic creativity and spark students’ interest.”

The fine arts academy began in 2016 and includes, musical theater (productions and chorus), handbells, strings (orchestra ensemble), art (club, competitions and showcases), physical education (running club and team sports), and communications (TV production, journalism club and yearbook).

While the fine arts academy first began with baby steps, it has now evolved into a respected, recognized program.

“In the future, I would like to see our fine arts program expand so that more students can participate in some of the programs offered, and also to add components like dance, keyboarding and band,” Vaughan said.

Wellington Elementary’s gifted center also regularly receives accolades, Vaughan noted.

Set on more than 20 acres, this green school also has a lavish nature trail. The school is also involved in health and wellness, participating in various causes and walks, such as National Walk to School Day, Autism Speaks, the American Cancer Society, Heroes for Education and more.

Meanwhile, Vaughan feels driven to pass on her knowledge to those just starting along educational roads of their own. “Personally, I would like to continue helping teachers, especially new teachers, to grow professionally,” she said. “I want to work to attract more people to the education profession.”


A Nurturing And Challenging School Culture

A Nurturing  And Challenging School Culture Equestrian Trails Elementary School Principal Michele Chorniewy Aims To Create Resilient Young Learners

Story by Deborah Welky  |  Photos by Denise Fleischman

Equestrian Trails Elementary School opened in 2003 to serve Wellington’s eastern neighborhoods. Located adjacent to the Olympia community, the school will be celebrating its 20th anniversary next year.

For the past 12 years, the principal at Equestrian Trails has been Michele Chorniewy, who grew up in a small, rural, “horse country” town just outside Ocala.

“I enjoyed elementary school tremendously,” Chorniewy recalled. “I can even look back on specific years and specific teachers who made that time special for me.”

Her first mentor, however, was her mother, Marlene.

“My mother should’ve been a teacher,” Chorniewy said. “I grew up in a single parent home with one sister. My mother had this mindset of high expectations, especially for us girls, that nothing could hold us back. She didn’t accept anything but the best we could possibly do. She was a huge influence in my wanting to be a teacher and make a difference, and she helped me find that inner drive within myself.”

Chorniewy received her undergraduate degree at the University of Central Florida and her master’s degree at San José State University in California. She also took part in a program and taught leadership to other teachers, her first steps toward administration.

“I taught for two years in Connecticut and for 10 in California, but I always knew I would be coming back to Florida,” she said. “I relocated when an opportunity presented itself right after 9/11. I spent one year teaching and observing at Cholee Lake Elementary School in Greenacres, then mentioned my degree to the principal. Soon after that, I became a team leader and then ESOL coordinator at the school.”

Her time at Cholee Lake helped Chorniewy make the transition to assistant principal, first at Limestone Creek Elementary School in Jupiter and then Marsh Point Elementary School in Palm Beach Gardens.

“I stayed with that principal, Maureen Werner, for three years and joined her when she went to open a brand-new school,” Chorniewy said. “We chose the design, the colors and hired every single person. At that time, you had to be an assistant principal for five years before you could apply to be a principal.”

Chorniewy credits Werner, who recently retired, with being a key mentor.

“With her as my mentor, I learned how to create a caring ‘school family,’ a supportive environment — especially for staff — where everyone feels appreciated and wants to come to work and views it as a happy place,” she said.

While working at Marsh Point, Chorniewy moved to Wellington, and her own daughters attended Polo Park Middle School and Wellington High School. By the time Equestrian Trails had an opening for a principal, Chorniewy was more than ready.

“I’ve been here at Equestrian Trails for 12 years now,” Chorniewy said. “When I got here, the school had dropped to a B-rated school. I needed to build a strong foundation through students and staff with relationships and a ‘we can do it’ attitude. Now, we’re an A-rated school with state-of-the-art programs and hands-on, project-based learning. We have lots of opportunities for kids to showcase their talents through arts, technology and more.”

The school is highly competitive in the Academic Games and does well in the STEM-based SECME competition.

“We’re a STEM choice school, something I created,” Chorniewy said. “We used to have a few clubs, but now we have robotics, a positivity club focusing on the importance of kindness, and a drama club, which I run myself. I consistently work to bring forth new programs, to make sure kids can compete globally for the jobs of the future, and to promote that to girls especially.

This past year, Equestrian Trails was second in the school district and 18th in Florida on state testing. “That was very big, coming off the pandemic,” she said.

When the pandemic struck, Chorniewy had unique experience for dealing with it.

“A big influencer on my career was Dr. [Martin] Krovetz, my lead professor at San José State,” she said. “He has written books on fostering resiliency in children and was well known around the U.S. I did my graduate work underneath him and learned the importance of creating a nurturing and academically challenging culture at school. In short, making sure students get what they need mentally, preparing them to overcome challenges and being there for them so they can sustain that while, at the same time, maintaining a top-notch academic culture for all kids equitably.”

Chorniewy has found getting back to normal harder than dealing with the early phases of the pandemic.

“The aftermath has turned out to be the hardest,” she said. “Teachers are having a hard time getting kids to learn. We’re seeing how academics suffer when students are home for long periods of time, with no parent in the room with them. And there’s a loss of social skills, especially in those kindergarteners who are now in second grade. We’re seeing kids who don’t know how to talk to one another, nor problem solve.”

Her focus recently has been getting those students the extra resources and assistance they need.

“True, some kids enjoy being on the computer and have the inner drive to listen to a teacher remotely but, especially on an elementary level, they’re not there yet,” Chorniewy said. “The majority of children need to be in school. Sadly, a lot of our kids who really needed to be in school were the last ones to come back. When they had the choice, they stayed home.”

In the future, Chorniewy hopes to get deeper into project-based learning and to have students work on global problem-solving, over weeks and months if necessary. She wants to bring in technology that students will need when they go to middle and high school.

“I want my students to problem-solve and work together,” she said. “We need to come back to that.”

While retirement may be in her future, she has no immediate plans to leave Equestrian Trails.

“I plan on retiring right here at Equestrian Trails,” Chorniewy said. “I recently remarried, so I’m looking forward to traveling. My daughters are older and getting married. I’m looking forward to grandchildren. There are always new things. In the meantime, I want to keep the school growing. I want to find new ways to inspire kids. I want to leave the school much better than when I got here. I’m already looking at staff for leadership ability. Great leaders create an environment where things continue to run well whether they are there or not. Everyone should continue learning.”


High Expectations For Students And Staff

High Expectations For Students And Staff Binks Forest Elementary’s Principal Michella Levy Lives By The School’s Motto ‘Expect The Best’

Story by Deborah Welky | Photos by Denise Fleischman

Binks Forest Elementary School opened in February 2000 as the third elementary school in Wellington, serving the community’s growing western areas. For the past 13 years, the school has been led by Principal Michella Levy.

Levy is living proof that success can be achieved no matter what life throws at you. Raised in a small central Florida town, she recalled struggled all through her school years, in a community where education did not seem to be a priority.

“I didn’t get the education that I needed, and I had no family support,” Levy said. “I went from kindergarten through 12th grade with the same group of kids. I was on a work/study program where I learned only basic reading, basic math, and went to work for the rest of the of day. There were 103 in my graduating class. I have a great work ethic, but school was not a great experience. And that’s why I’m a teacher and a principal now — to make a difference.”

Once Levy started reading in earnest, she read everything she could. Although it took her eight years to earn her bachelor’s degree, she completed a typically three-year master’s degree program in just one year — all while teaching full time.

By age 27, she was teaching elementary school at an inner-city school in Orlando. She went on to teach fourth and fifth grade in Palm Springs here in Palm Beach County, while also working as a reading coach, showing teachers how to successfully teach reading. She knew firsthand just how important that was.

This was followed by six years at Hidden Oaks Elementary School in suburban Lake Worth.

“I wanted to become a school counselor, but the principal at Hidden Oaks said, ‘No, I want you as my assistant principal,’” remembered Levy, who earned her master’s degree in educational leadership from Nova Southeastern University and took the job.

Thirteen years ago, Levy was promoted to principal at Binks Forest here in Wellington.

“I’m very grateful and very humbled to be here. I truly do get to make a difference for 1,200 kids every day,” she said. “Every decision I make, I ask myself, ‘Am I doing the best for the child?’ If there’s a problem, I call the kid in, read their soul and see what they need. I’ll move a kid out of a particular class in a minute if that’s what they need.”

Levy gives special thanks to former Area Superintendent Dr. Matthew Shoemaker for his support during her early years as a principal.

“His guidance was amazing — with love and patience. The people who you love, you do things for out of love. The people you fear, you only do it out of fear. So, I lead with love,” Levy said. “I greet them at the door, hug them, want to know what kind of morning they had. I tell them, ‘We’re a family. We don’t bicker. We don’t gossip. We’re family. We love each other.’”

When Levy took over as principal, Binks Forest was already an A-rated school, in part because it was a gifted center, home to high-performing students from across Wellington. Today, most elementary schools keep their high-performing students, so Binks Forest is no longer classified as a gifted center, but it’s still an A-rated school.

“We’re a perfectly rounded school,” Levy said. “One-third of our students are functioning below grade level, one third are at grade level and one third are above grade level. We have more of our students than ever on the free and reduced-price lunch program, and people don’t realize that. It’s not the same ‘clientele,’ but we’re still scoring high on the state tests.”

For the past two years, being a principal meant dealing with many more social and emotional challenges — for staff, as well as students.

“You had to be there for everybody,” Levy said. “Even though we were delivering laptops and desks, kids were raising themselves in front of screens, my own included. I was too busy to ‘enjoy’ the pandemic.”

Yet Levy doesn’t consider the pandemic to be her biggest challenge as a principal. Instead, it’s something much simpler.

“Our motto at Binks is to ‘expect the best.’ I expect the best, and I’m a pro-active person. So, I find it hard to run a school when I don’t have complete control over everything. For example, maintenance and furniture. I know what I need, and it’s difficult, with maintenance budget cuts, to get the resources. Getting a toilet fixed can take a while, but, if a bathroom isn’t fixed, a child loses seven minutes of class time going to another bathroom further away. Maintenance is important.”

Levy has tried to offset the problem by doing some fundraising on her own, but she always works to put her focus on the students.

“We pride ourselves on extremely high expectations for kids, but we also want to make learning fun,” she said. “We’ve planned 11 field trips for our fourth graders because I believe they will remember experiences over workbooks. We turn science, social studies and English into a farming experience. We plant things; we shuck corn. We dress up for a ‘Coming to America’ history lesson. They may not remember a book, but they will remember ‘Coming to America’ in second grade.”

What Levy looks for when hiring teachers goes beyond academics. “My staff and my teachers have to have heart,” she said. “I can teach teachers how to teach, but I can’t teach ‘heart,’ so that’s what I look for.”

At the start of the school year, Levy also takes the time to make sure that each student is placed with the correct teacher.

“I have their background on cards, and I look at every single kid individually,” Levy said. “It takes me about 60 hours to place every kid with the perfect teacher, but my goal is to educate the whole child — to make sure each child has a great year. Even then, I never let academics go — if a child needs individualized instruction in one area, that’s what they will get.”

Levy once had set her sights set on becoming a high school principal or even a superintendent but, upon reflection, decided to stay put.

“I’ll make more of a difference here,” she said. “I love what I’ve built at Binks Forest — the culture and environment. Because I’m so grateful to all the people who mentored me, I participate in a ‘My Mentor and Me’ program, as do many of the teachers here. It’s a good program for any student who needs a little extra love and attention. I mentor six children because I know what it’s like. Nothing has been handed to me.”


Putting The Needs Of Students First

Putting The Needs Of Students First
Polo Park Middle School Principal Michael Aronson Aims To Provide A Top-Notch Educational Environment

Story by Deborah Welky | Photos by Denise Fleischman

When Polo Park Middle School opened along southern Wellington’s fast-growing Lake Worth Road corridor in August 2000, it became the community’s second middle school.

Now 22 years later, Polo Park is led by Principal Michael Aronson, who has been serving in that position for four years, since taking over in August 2018.

Aronson grew up attending Broward County public schools, where he got an extra dose of attention in his early teen years.

“My mother taught at my middle school, so any time I remotely got into anything I wasn’t supposed to, she knew about it immediately and it was corrected quickly,” Aronson recalled. “So, my path was pretty straight and narrow.”

Yet in high school, a guidance counselor told him to give up the college prep classes he had been taking and get onto a vocational track. Fortunately, his college advisor disagreed.

“She was a big influence in my life,” Aronson said. “Her name was Patti Skelton, and she told me to do what I thought was best for me. She saw a different person in me than my guidance counselor saw. She thought I was destined for good things and that college should be in my future.”

Aronson took her advice, attaining both bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Georgia Southern University before becoming a physical education and health sciences teacher at a high school in Georgia.

“I considered becoming a college soccer coach but, once I got into education, within a couple of years, I knew that’s what I wanted to do,” Aronson said. “Seeing the difference I could make in kids’ lives, education was where I wanted to remain.”

Aronson later returned to Florida to teach physical education at Palm Beach Lakes and Wellington high schools. It was at Wellington High School that Aronson decided to pivot into administration, cheered on by then-Principal Cheryl Alligood, who went on to serve as chief academic officer for the School District of Palm Beach County.

“She would push me to get everything I needed to get done to become an administrator,” Aronson recalled. “She saw a lot of great leadership qualities in me. I had my degree when I moved to Florida, but there was a lot of red tape I needed to push through in order to get things done.”

That will to push through stood Aronson in good stead during the pandemic. “The biggest challenge for me as a principal has been getting through the last three years and getting the kids caught up to where they need to be,” he said. “They needed to get reacclimated to being back in the building. They needed to remember how to behave in a classroom. And they needed to get the information that they didn’t necessarily get while they were home, especially in math. We have an engineering program here at Polo Park Middle School, so STEM is big for our school. We needed to get them ready for that high level math by remediating their math skills.”

Yet Aronson can take pride in the fact that his teachers continue to steer kids in the right direction despite the setbacks of the pandemic.

“We want to continue providing our students the quality education they’ve been accustomed to getting,” he said. “The teachers are just happy to not have to do hybrid teaching, to have the kids back in front of them again where they can give them the attention they need to make sure they’re successful.”

At Polo Park, the successes are many. More than 600 students make the honor roll every six weeks. The baseball team recently won the county championship. The girls volleyball team won all their divisions. And the robotics team won the state championship, then placed 36th in the world championships.

“Kids are always kids,” Aronson said. “They need structure and leadership, but in the last couple of years, social skills are something we’ve had to reteach. They’ve been home for two years with no friends around or even family. Some kids have changed their personalities permanently because of that. Sometimes the change is good, sometimes it’s bad — it depends on the kid.”

Aronson’s goals for the future are to continue to grow as a principal and leader.

“I can’t rest on my laurels,” he said. “I must continue to grow every year to make sure the school staff and kids get the best part of me. I want Polo Park to continue to be an A-rated school with top-notch academic, athletic and robotics programs. I also want to see the continued success of all the other activities that are overlooked. We have a lot of great things that go on here.”