Category Archives: Wellington Education

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


Palm Beach Central’s Linda Pearson Teaches Students How To Excel In The Culinary Arts

Education-Linda Pearson

Palm Beach Central’s Linda Pearson Teaches Students How To Excel In The Culinary Arts

Story by Chris Felker • Photos by Julie Unger

Much of the knowledge it takes to do well in culinary pursuits is rather cut-and-dried — consisting of the simple chemistry of salt and pepper of taste, and the meat and potatoes of math and science.

Those lay out the basic ingredients for Linda Pearson’s students in the Culinary Arts Academy magnet program at Palm Beach Central High School. But when it comes to all the various parts of the food service industry — to which the program is a steppingstone for more than half of Pearson’s pupils — things can get a bit cluttered, like the kitchen of a beginner chef. The kids who don’t stick it out, as well as those who take cooking classes just as an elective, learn quickly that the industry isn’t for them.

The cluttered-kitchen scenario is exactly what the intensive magnet curriculum is designed to avoid for students who have an eye toward the restaurant industry, either as a temporary job to help get them through college, or as a long-term career path.

Pearson, a West Palm Beach native, joined the Palm Beach County School District in the early 1980s.

“I went to culinary school as a public school student way back in the 1970s,” she recalled. “I attended South Tech, actually, which is now a charter school. I graduated early from that, went straight out into the industry and started working, and in about a year’s time, I was already executive sous chef at the Fountains Country Club.”

To further her knowledge, she took courses through what was then Palm Beach Community College, as well as Florida Atlantic and Florida International universities. After the Fountains, Pearson went on to work at other country clubs, until she entered the education field in 1981. Much of her own on-the-job experience influences Pearson’s method and substance of instruction to this day.

Her assignments after she started with the district added more seasoning to her recipe for education that Pearson brings to the table at Palm Beach Central. She was involved in the design of a mini-culinary “institute” in southern Palm Beach County.

“I originally started working for South Tech, the school that I graduated from, and then I did 10 years at North Tech up in Riviera Beach, in an off-campus program, and then I went back to South Tech,” Pearson said.

When South Tech was slated to close, the school district asked her to assist in the development and design of a new facility at West Boca Raton High School.

“I volunteered my time and traveled throughout the state actually looking at designs for kitchens for instructional purposes, and then I was actually able to work on that committee for the district to design and develop that [culinary program] kitchen at West Boca,” Pearson said.

She joined the staff at Palm Beach Central three years ago and is in her fourth school year now. Next spring, her program will graduate just over a baker’s dozen who’ve been studying with her for all their high school years.

The culinary magnet program was trimmed from two teachers to one — Pearson — just as she started. But it still has a demanding curriculum, involving both catering and an actual eatery.

“We lost a classroom, so I got the kids involved and had them start thinking about a new design of how to set it up so it was much more functional,” she said. “We run a restaurant called the Bronco Bistro. The upper-level kids — that’s kids in their third and fourth year, because this is a four-year program — are responsible for creating and generating all the menus that are used, the shopping list… the order taking, the deliveries, food prep, dining room service and they literally run the bistro.”

The bistro starts up in January, Pearson explained, noting that organizational tasks dominate the first semester.

“The level one kids are learning right now mostly what it is to be a good professional. They’re understanding employability skills, they’re writing résumés, doing professional writings and things to get them acclimated,” she said. “Then they’ll move on up and they’ll be in the kitchen and start cooking, probably with breakfast cookery first, and knife skills and things like that. It’s a lot of book-work in level one.”

The students also learn how to be safe in the kitchen.

“Level two students do a certification that they’re working on right now called Safe Staff, the same certification that employees get on the job. It’s with the student for three years, a small version of what proper safety and sanitation are involved in the handling of food,” Pearson explained. “The upper-level kids have a shot at… their national certification, and that is Serve Safe, a manager’s exam, and it’s good for five years. Those students are working diligently on learning all the material that has to do with the exam done through the National Restaurant Association.”

Getting the certification is a strategic move for students to do while in high school, Pearson said, noting that it costs approximately $500 to take that exam after graduation.

While she encourages the teens who seem sure they’re aiming for a culinary career, Pearson exercises empathy with all and expresses caution to some, even though she said her main reward is “getting the kids to get involved in the program.” She tries to guide her students, not dictate to them.

“I make them responsible, and they respond by running the place,” Pearson said of the Bronco Bistro. “I kind of guide them, but they own the place. It’s their place, and it’s that ownership that I think is so neat.”

In the early years of the program, students often drift in and out. But for a handful, the culinary arts will dominate their lives. “A few kids are absolutely interested in this as an occupation,” Pearson said. “I encourage them to go to college for business and get a job. Get work experience that way, get a business degree. That’s pretty much what I tell all my kids to do.”

Pearson admits she’ll feel a bit of nostalgia in May. “This is my group that is going to be the first that’s had me all the years,” she said. “We’re like family. When you hang with kids for four years, you become pretty close.”


Mary Baldwin Of Wellington Landings Is Proud Of The School’s Extensive Afterschool Program


Mary Baldwin Of Wellington Landings Is Proud Of The School’s Extensive Afterschool Program

Story by Chris Felker • Photos by Abner Pedraza

Veteran educator Mary Baldwin is among the first to arrive at Wellington Landings Middle School each day, and one of the last to leave. It’s not just because she enjoys teaching, of course, although that’s a big part of the reason.

Baldwin is a pioneer of the Middle School Afterschool Program, which began in 1995 with a Florida Department of Education grant awarded to the Palm Beach County School District. She has been running Wellington Landings’ program ever since. “It’s really unique and really cool, I think,” Baldwin said. “What’s so awesome about our program is we just have so much to offer.”

Although many other middle schools have similar programs, Baldwin doesn’t know of any others that are so extensive, offering the incredible range of activities available to Wellington Landings students who stay after hours because their parents work late or lack other options to ensure their children are supervised and safe after school.

So many activities are available that the school has its own full-color program brochure that’s given to parents. The program has proved so popular over the years that activities are also now available before the regular class day, starting at 7:30 a.m. and continuing until breakfast at 9:05 a.m.

Baldwin fills two other, complex roles in her regular school day job. “Right now I’m not in a classroom setting, I’m the eighth-grade and the ESE (exceptional student education) administrator. When the bell rings, I change that hat to this hat,” she explained. “My degree is in exceptional student education, and I’ve always worked with the ESE population.”

Born and raised in Gainesville, Baldwin earned her degree from Florida State University, married and moved to the area in 1984 with her husband, where they started a family. She has three grown children, and also a younger child, now in seventh grade.

Baldwin was certain of her calling even at a young age. As a student, she was drawn to helping those younger than herself, often students who were slower to learn.

“I’ve just always enjoyed working with children. I was good at it. I like kids — I love kids, actually — and to this day, probably one of the things I’m most proud about, is that after 34 years in education, I still love my work,” she said.

Her involvement with students outside the classroom has much to do with that. She explains that the afterschool program is free to all who qualify for the free and reduced-price lunch program, with nominal fees for others. “You can get math help with a certified math teacher, and it’s only $3 a day,” Baldwin said, offering just one example.

The school’s brochure only begins to list the dizzying variety of enrichments that students can seek out. Among the clubs are: academic games, anime, audio-visual, chess, debate, drama, environmental, future educators, majorettes, National Junior Honor Society, newspaper, twirling, yearbook and more. Then there are intramural sports, such as basketball, fitness/conditioning, flag football, indoor soccer, lacrosse, track, volleyball, weight training and wrestling.

“Wellington is sports-driven. Kids play sports from very early ages. So to make any of the teams, it’s extremely competitive,” Baldwin said; thus, the afterschool sports activities at Wellington Landings are extremely popular.

Other afterschool activities include cheerleading, creative cooking, dance, fishing, game room, golf, homework help, Minecraft, scrapbooking, sign language and step team.

The Wellington Landings program draws accolades from students, parents and the school district.

“The Wellington Landings Afterschool Program is the best blend of afterschool and day school,” said Olivia Rogers, who manages Out of School Programs for the school district. “This program has always had a wide variety of activities so that many students can participate. The school has embraced the afterschool program as part of the entire school culture, which has made the program a huge success.”

That’s a big source of pride for Baldwin, who uses a tight annual budget to run the activities.

One component of the afterschool program is a series of built-in recognitions for students who might not otherwise stand out among their peers.

“I’m really proud of the fact that we recognize these kids all the time,” Baldwin said. “So someone who maybe really excels in flag football — they may not get recognition through honor roll or didn’t make a sports team — but we’ll put them on the morning announcements.”

They also regularly stage sports tournaments. “The entire school will come out and watch the championship game. We’ll have the cheerleaders come out — all their peers can see them,” Baldwin said. “The other thing is that we do a whole assembly in February. All of the afterschool programs perform, and all the kids are invited to watch.”

The activities make such an impression on the children that, at any given time, 10 high-schoolers come back and volunteer to help with the afterschool program, Baldwin said. Among those students was Theresa Cameron.

“As an eighth-grader, she started helping me in the program,” Baldwin said. “Then she came over every day after school in ninth and 10th grades. When she was in 11th grade, I ended up hiring her to help me.”

Cameron eventually earned an education degree and was hired as a teacher at Wellington Landings. “It was such a cool success story to have someone from eighth grade all the way through to now,” Baldwin said. “She’s my right-hand person here in the afterschool program.”

Baldwin said her biggest personal satisfaction comes from her relationships with students. “Every day is a challenge, but every day is a new day and a fun day, and I just love it,” she said. “The afterschool program gives us an opportunity to see kids in a different light, outside of the structured classroom, and build those relationships that are so important in their overall success as students.”


Ana Groover Leads The International Spanish Academy At New Horizons Elementary School


Ana Groover Leads The International Spanish Academy At New Horizons Elementary School

Story by Chris Felker • Photos by Abner Pedraza

In her 22-year educational career, Ana Groover has spent 18 years at New Horizons Elementary School in Wellington. Through that time, she has picked up additional administration duties. However, after missing her time working directly with children, she began this year determined to spend more time with students.

Groover is the International Spanish Academy coordinator at New Horizons. A native of Cuba, she arrived as a 6-year-old in Florida when her parents immigrated to the United States. She was raised in Belle Glade, which is also where she first taught in the 1990s, at Gove Elementary School as a dual-language English teacher who volunteered in the evenings to help adult learners.

Groover earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in elementary education from Nova Southeastern University.

When she started at New Horizons, Groover initially was an English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) specialist, teaching science to older elementary school students. She was then given other hats to wear, including ESOL grade chair, testing/placement of English Language Learners (ELLs) and test scheduler.

“Last year, I actually had two administrative jobs and worked very little with children. I’m actually the ESOL coordinator, and that job I’ve had a long time,” Groover said. “Since we became a dual-language magnet school, I am now also the International Spanish Academy magnet coordinator.”

But she kept teaching kids despite the extra work, after gravitating almost completely out of the classroom.

“What I’d done in the past several years was pull groups of children to work with as a tutor almost, for 45 minutes a day — third, fourth and fifth grade. Last year, I wasn’t able to do that,” she said. “There just wasn’t time.”

The other major responsibilities Groover bears keep her a busy professional, and she wouldn’t have it any other way. The labels on those hats have her swimming in acronyms, too many to define, and some that have gone away. She coordinates all ELL testing, plus the state’s Access 2.0 test, and is APRENDA test administrator as well. In addition, she is New Horizons’ administrative liaison for the Educational Data Warehouse (EDW), which holds all student records.

“English Language Learners are the children who, when they get to us from other countries, they’re tested, and then according to the tests they’re placed in a room,” Groover explained. “There’s a plan drawn up so their instruction matches with their growth goals, and then they are reevaluated. I reevaluate them at certain times. There are actually guidelines from the government that we have to follow about how often and when they have to be reevaluated.

The goal is to get them completely proficient in English. The way they determine that, Groover said, is through the battery of tests that she largely administers for the school.

“APRENDA is a test that we give only to the dual-language children, anyone who’s in the Spanish academy, so I also manage that test and everything else to do with it. That one is like an FCAT but is all in Spanish,” she said. “It is given to them to see how far they are above or below grade level or whether they’re on grade level in Spanish… It is a cumulative exam, so we kind of see what they’ve learned between kindergarten and second grade, and then we get a baseline, so when they take it in fifth grade, we see how much growth there was.”

All that testing determines whether a certain moment has occurred for each student that Groover basically lives to make happen.

“I just love to see when the light goes on in a kid’s eyes because you have all of a sudden opened up an avenue of interest for them and motivated them to learn. That often comes through language, also through visual,” she said.

It’s what has kept her going back into the classroom for more than just supervising teachers; it’s why she enjoys her work.

“I do a lot of virtual science field trips, where we do things like, I take them to the national parks via the computer,” Groover explained. “When they are studying erosion and they see something like Bryce National Park, or Zion, or the Grand Canyon, they’re just blown away. That then leads them to leave my room, and find a book or a computer and continue to learn more about that area. So that, I think, is what’s huge — that you start that ball rolling, and then it gets momentum, and then… boom: kids want to learn.”

Under her leadership, the International Spanish Academy has grown to encompass three-quarters of New Horizons’ student population.

“We work in partnership with the Consul of Spain in Miami. We teach half of the day in English and half of the day in Spanish. The kids get an hour and a half of reading in English, and then they switch and go to their Spanish teachers, [many of whom] are provided through the Spanish consulate. They’re actually teachers from Spain who are with us on a three-year visa.”

The students get many of their lessons in Spanish.

“When they leave us in fifth grade, they do get a graduating certificate from the ISA signed by the Consulate of Spain’s educational attaché in Tallahassee, and it gives them the right to study abroad,” Groover said.

The ultimate goal then is met.

“These kids are bilingual when they graduate,” Groover said, adding that New Horizons ISA grads are going on to bigger things, given that great dual-language advantage. “Remember, the ISA has only been in place for 10 years. So the kids who started out with us are just now reaching the high school level or getting ready to graduate. We’ve had several kids at Suncoast and several at Wellington High School who are in honors programs. I think there are going to be great things that come out of here.”



Wellington High School’s Jim Marshall Helps Students Find Their Calling In Life


Wellington The Magazine – September 2016

Wellington High School’s Jim Marshall Helps Students Find Their Calling In Life

Story by Chris Felker • Photos by Abner Pedraza

In his 34-year career in education, Jim Marshall’s focus has widened far beyond teaching science concepts to classrooms full of students. It has extended to helping guide groups of kids onto purposeful paths that can gain them swift entry into the work force, set them on their way to a career or reduce uncertainties about their future upon entering college.

As the choice programs coordinator at Wellington High School, Marshall was instrumental in the founding and growth of the school’s groundbreaking Fire Science Academy, which graduated its first class of cadets last May.

However, Marshall’s connection to WHS dates back decades. He started there the year the school opened in 1988 — as did his wife, Rebecca, in the math department.

Born in Spring Lake, Mich., Marshall grew up in the Tampa area after his family moved to Florida when he was a child. He met his wife while earning his degree in environmental biology from Emporia State University in Kansas, where they married and taught at local schools for about three years.

Yet Marshall started longing to get closer to the water. “Kansas was about as far as you could get from it,” he recalled. “My sister was down here, and the ‘Nation at Risk’ report had come out in the early 1980s. Pretty much every school district everywhere across the country was clamoring for science teachers.”

Originally, Marshall’s plan was to work as a field biologist for a government agency. “But the landscape had changed a lot from the 1970s. There weren’t many jobs out there, so I thought I’d do teaching as a part-time gig, but really fell in love with it,” he said.

His first job in Palm Beach County was as a dive instructor, but he was looking to get back into the classroom. “I interviewed at four schools, and picked up a job at Spanish River High School. I taught there for three years and was the number two guy in marine bio there. When Wellington High School opened in 1988, Principal Jake Sello hired me to teach science, and I have been here ever since,” Marshall said.

Over the years at WHS, he has taught several levels of marine science and Advanced Placement environmental science, plus has served as a department chair, activities director and assistant athletics director.

But it has been from his experiences helping to design WHS’s Equine Pre-Veterinary Academy, and then establishing the school’s Fire Science and Fine Arts academies, that has brought Marshall the greatest satisfaction of his educational career.

The pre-veterinary academy came first. “It has been about 10 years now since we started that,” Marshall said. “Cheryl Alligood was the principal, and she was looking to see where we could add some pieces and enhance what was already a great school. As we all know, what makes Wellington a little different is our equestrian community. So we took a look at this.”

Based on the school’s strong science faculty, Marshall helped develop a program designed to give students a firm equine/pre-veterinary background.

The idea for a Fire Science Academy arose in 2013 during the school’s annual “Shattered Dreams” production preceding prom, which is a mock teen fatality car accident staged with help from Palm Beach County Fire-Rescue.

“The kids go through about an hour lecture… giving them an awareness of what bad choices can look like,” Marshall explained. “Then there’s a mock event on the field. It’s all staged out, pretty dramatic. Principal Mario Crocetti and I were watching it, and he said, ‘You know, it’d be kind of cool if we had some sort of a public safety type of academy.’”

Marshall noticed several of his former students manning the rigs in the demonstration and got permission to do some research, during which he learned that many WHS alumni had gone on to become firefighters and paramedics. So, they decided to go ahead with establishing an academy.

“We partnered with Palm Beach State College early on,” Marshall said. “We knew they were going to be eventually where we’d send these students for their certification. We developed a plan for their instructors to come on our campus and teach, and that’s what we’re doing today.”

The academy is unique in Palm Beach County. While at least one other school has attempted it, WHS is the first to get the concept fully off the ground. “We are the first ones to put it all together and actually graduate, which we did this year, our first crop of candidates,” Marshall said.

The Fine Arts Academy came about at the school district’s suggestion, but Marshall was thrilled to help get it established.

“We know there are a lot of really quality, motivated, artistic kids who don’t get a seat at the Dreyfoos School of the Arts, so it was an idea to add into the western area a fine arts program,” Marshall explained. “And not only did we add it, but also Wellington Elementary School has added a program, as has Wellington Landings Middle School. So now, kids actually can come in as a [fine arts] choice program from all around the district into Wellington schools.”

Through these programs, he has seen students find their calling early in life. “We have very diverse programs to propel kids into college with a real sense of purpose, whether it be in the sciences, or in the marketing program, in business studies, even fine arts,” Marshall said. “The other piece of it that I’m really proud of is that the fire academy is a real high-school-to-work thing. Right now, our kids earn their first fire certification. They literally have just two more months of schooling to do, and they can become certified firefighters after high school.”

The youngest of Marshall’s three sons, Ian, is on track to reap the rewards. He is a senior in the WHS Fire Science Academy this year. Next spring, he’ll experience the thrill of a graduation co-celebrated by future potential crewmates. Local firefighters played ceremonial parts in the academy’s first graduation ceremony this past spring.

“It really was neat,” Marshall said. “The Palm Beach County Pipe & Drum Corps led the kids in, which was really special and set the mood for it. I think it was kind of the last link to propel these kids into a meaningful, purposeful life of service to their communities.”


Integrated Fine Arts Programs Are Providing Unique Opportunities For Wellington Students


Wellington The Magazine-August 2016

Integrated Fine Arts Programs Are Providing Unique Opportunities For Wellington Students

Story and Photos by Julie Unger

Expanded fine arts programs at Wellington schools are making it easier for art, band, chorus, dance and drama students, among others, to further their artistic education without leaving the community.

No longer do these students need to be bused out to specialty schools now that several area schools at all grade levels are expanding their fine arts academies. With the addition of a new fine arts choice program at Wellington Elementary School, local students can now follow an expanded fine arts curriculum from Wellington Elementary School to Wellington Landings Middle School, and on to Wellington High School.

Perhaps nowhere is this expanded curriculum more noticeable than in the amazing show beings produced by Wellington kids at all levels. At the very end of the last school year, Wellington Elementary Choral Director Dave Morrison led his students in a mesmerizing performance of Annie Kids. At WHS, Drama Director Dennis Schaber directed, designed and choreographed while Chorus Director Bradford Chase provided musical direction for recent productions such as Guys and Dolls and The Addams Family. Wellington Landings will be getting ready for its first production this school year.

Wellington Elementary Principal Dr. Maria Vaughan explained that she worked with Wellington Landings Principal Blake Bennett and WHS Principal Mario Crocetti on the creation of this integrated fine arts curriculum once she realized that her colleagues were also working on expanding their fine arts programming.

Aligning the programs, she explained, is the ideal scenario, because it gives the students continuity and somewhere to go.

“When you set up an academy, you really want it to have the kids be able to transition from each level — elementary, middle and high,” Vaughan said. “Once we realized all three of us were doing that, we met and talked about what we were offering at our school and what they’re offering at the middle and high school levels to try to make sure that we’re offering the same types of programs.”

For Vaughan, it’s exciting to work with nearby schools in this groundbreaking project. For her students, she said, it is also exciting because it gives them a glimpse at the future.

“It gives them a goal and ambition. It gives them motivation to continue doing well where they are, and helps them to strive for what’s at the next level,” Vaughan said.

The schools performed together at Wellington Elementary in the spring, with the chorus directors of each school speaking about their respective programs. Chase and Morrison joined Alayna Morton, the chorus director at Wellington Landings, to discuss the hard work and dedication it takes to be a choral student. Even in elementary school, rehearsals are up to four times a week, and it can take months to perfect a song. “It was an amazing experience for the kids,” Vaughan said.

About two months later, Vaughan’s students performed Annie Kids, and all three principals were on hand to enjoy the production. “It is absolutely amazing what Mr. Morrison has done with that program,” Vaughan added. “That show was just astounding. I don’t know how he’s going to top this one. It was pretty amazing, from the costumes to the set design to the acting… I’m very proud to be a part of that and to be able to help make that possible.”

Vaughan is looking forward to developing the school’s strings program with kindergartners and seeing the fine arts progress and integrate into the school’s curriculum. Hand bells, guitar, ukulele, TV production, art, journalism, chorus, drama, the student news crew and yearbook are just some of the ways the students have become engrossed in Wellington Elementary’s new fine arts academy. She noted that students will be able to select their strengths and develop as the program evolves.

Through the drama program, Vaughan said, once the students know what they are expected to do, they rise to the challenge and consistently exceed expectations. As students excel in the arts, other areas improve. “This is going to really impact the whole child. We’re looking forward to seeing how our kids are going to blossom,” she said.

At Wellington Landings, students do not need to have prior experience to take part in the fine arts curriculum, Bennett explained. Advanced classes, however, are audition-based.

Each student has two elective classes that can be filled with fine arts academy classes, such as journalism, band, chorus, hand bells, dance, art, speech/debate, law studies, drama and TV production.

Out-of-boundary students have to apply to the Wellington Landings academy, but all students zoned for the school automatically have access to the program.

“When I first came here, all we had was band, chorus, art and hand bells. All of the other ones, I’ve added over the years in hopes of pulling it all together to be a fine arts academy,” Bennett said.

Starting as early as kindergarten, Bennett said, allows the students to discover what they enjoy and where the arts take them. Having the options from kindergarten through their senior year in high school is a huge opportunity for the kids, she added.

Unlike specialty schools, the students at Wellington Landings are able to shift their focus from one type of fine arts to another and are able to take part in multiple classes, choosing to use one or both of their electives for fine arts classes.

“They’re performance-based classes, where they’re not being graded paper- and pencil-wise, they’re graded by their projects, products and performances,” Bennett said. “For example, in TV production, they’ll be producing the news — live. They’ll be writing scripts and producing.”

Children get to explore their creative side and are able to find different interests through arts programs, she explained.

“I think it’s just great for the kids,” Bennett said. “I think every community should have all the arts programs so that children can benefit from them. I’m really glad that the three of us worked together to make sure that all of the kids can enjoy the programs through their entire K-12 experience.”

On Aug. 8, new students can attend an orientation at Wellington Landings, where incoming sixth-graders can get their bearings.

As students progress to high school, they have access to remain with high-quality arts programs without leaving the Wellington area, Crocetti explained.

“We’ve had a fine arts program for quite a while, but with Wellington Landings and Wellington Elementary jumping on board, it makes a nice progression,” he said. “I’ve seen Wellington Landings students perform over the years and had the opportunity to see Wellington Elementary’s presentation of Annie, which was just phenomenal. It’s going to be a great pipeline.”

As part of the integrated program, the high school theater is going to be made available to the elementary and middle schools, Crocetti said.

Each of the schools are bringing in somewhere between 40 and 60 students from outside their boundaries to participate in their programs.

“They’re moving in all different aspects of the arts, whether it be the visual arts, vocal, instrumental, dance, theater — all areas,” Crocetti said.

Chase is excited about the new integrated fine arts curriculum, adding that it will make his job easier — especially with recruitment. “Having these kids discover what they’re interested in and find their passion, when they come to the high school, they’ll seek us out,” he said. “By the time they get to high school, we should have some students who are not only passionate about what they do, but they’ll also have training in those various art areas.”

In high school, the students take two fine arts classes each year and are encouraged to try different arts to be exposed to different things, he explained.

The WHS academy is in its third year and continues to grow. This is the first year with open doors through the lottery system.

Crocetti is excited to see what students from outside the area bring to the program through a fresh perspective and different, diverse points of view. “They’re an asset to the school,” he said. “They come with a different perspective,” he said.

All three Wellington schools are designated as choice schools, and are accepting students from out of the area to join in the programs. Students outside school boundaries are able to apply for the programs through the Palm Beach County School District.

For more info., visit or contact the schools directly. Call Wellington Elementary at (561) 651-0600, Wellington Landings at (561) 792-8100 or Wellington High School at (561) 795-4900.