Any Pine Crest student who has matriculated through pre-kindergarten on the Boca Raton campus in the last 20 years would likely recognize the words “pre-k” and “Ms. Wanland” as synonymous, with many recalling her friendly nature, bright smile, and warm hugs. As a member of the spirited, experienced, and enthusiastic pre-kindergarten team on the Boca campus, Ms. Shawna Wanland has retired from Pine Crest School after 24 years of service.
A Chicago native, Ms. Wanland’s journey to South Florida was not necessarily an extraordinary one. “My mom got transferred to Connecticut for work, and we were only there for a year before she was transferred again to Boca Raton. I was about 20 years old then, and I’ve lived here ever since.”
Ms. Wanland enrolled at Florida Atlantic University (FAU) as an accounting major, working in an office as an administrative assistant while attending school. “Eventually, I began to realize that the accountants were in there doing the same thing EVERY day,” she said. “I thought to myself, ‘I don’t know if that’s what I really want to do with my life!’ So, taking into consideration my love for kids, I changed my major to education.”
As an education major, Ms. Wanland was required to complete degree-specific work, very similar to a career intern experience. “I decided to do my work study at a place called The Learning Experience (TLE) on Spanish River Road. I fell in love working with the kids there, and that whole atmosphere really resonated with me.”
Upon finishing her time with TLE, Ms. Wanland continued working toward completing her degree. Her first student-teaching experience was not all that she had hoped for, so after graduating from FAU in 1998, Ms. Wanland reached out to a friend who had opened a decorative cookie store, and she quickly changed direction. “I went to work with her for a while,” said Ms. Wanland. “I really enjoyed it and we had a good time together. I even found an artistic side that I didn’t know I had!”
Ms. Wanland with three of her former students, Anna Medrano ’23, Dylan Haligman ’23, and Lior Silberman ’23.
Understanding that decorating cookies may not have been a viable long-term career path, after almost a year, Ms. Wanland finally turned her focus back to education and teaching.
“I lived near Pine Crest, so I put in an application with the School’s receptionist at the time to be a substitute. Some time passed before I finally got a call one day, and was asked to sub for Mrs. Francine Savoca in the Lower School. Mrs. Savoca was fantastic, and she had a team teacher plus another assistant in the room with her. It was the total opposite of my student-teaching experience, and it was great. I knew almost instantly that if I was going to teach, I wanted to do it at Pine Crest.”
Ms. Wanland shared that Pine Crest had a very unique atmosphere, and she immediately felt drawn to it. “The school felt warm and cozy. The kids were kind and well-behaved, and the people working there were welcoming and friendly with a good vibe. What stood out to me was that it felt like the pleasant neighborhood schools where I grew up.”
She began substituting for the following year, filling in for several different teachers across different divisions. “I was substituting in different grades, P.E., everything,” Ms. Wanland said. “Then, I was asked to sub for a teacher going on maternity leave, so I accepted that offer. After almost another year, in 2001, I was asked to step in for a pre-kindergarten teacher who was leaving. Except for one year in kindergarten, that’s where I remained.”
As Ms. Wanland continued to reflect on her time at Pine Crest, she found it difficult to choose a single instant that she was proudest of. “I don’t know that there’s one specific moment, but I felt a great sense of pride knowing that, when students are that young, we are getting them started on all the academic pieces. Helping them improve personally and grow and feel better about themselves, that’s magical. Connecting with children—that was the most important thing I did. And watching them learn to read, knowing that you’re a part of helping them build a skill they’ll have for the rest of their lives is wonderful.”
Ms. Wanland went on to explain that her experience as a teacher was deeper than just helping children have success in the classroom, and it plays a big role in what has kept her at Pine Crest all these years. “You know, just having fun, bonding with the students, being silly and laughing—that was special. You feel like you know these children, and they’re with you forever. When they come back to see you, and you realize that they do actually remember you and the time you shared, it’s heartwarming.”
In addition to the connections she made with her students over the years, Ms. Wanland also spoke fondly of her experience with her fellow teachers and administrators.
“Carrie Sax was always really kind and helpful, and always made me feel comfortable. Really, so many of my colleagues are wonderful, talented educators, and many of them have influenced me over the years. But I think I learned the most from Jan Mehl. I see the things in her that I always hope I’m doing with the students. She teaches not from a textbook, but in real-life ways. She relates to the students socially and emotionally. Jan puts the heart into teaching. She’s so welcoming and friendly and helpful and brilliant but still humble, even after all these years. And she does her best to make people feel special. She’s who I aspire to be when I grow up!”
There were several people who positively impacted Ms. Wanland during her tenure. But there is one individual that holds a very special place in her heart. “I would be doing the greatest disservice if I didn’t highlight my time working with Sharon.” Sharon Perelman has been Ms. Wanland’s Teacher II for the last 13 years. “She was a big part of making our classroom the home away from home for our students,” Ms. Wanland said fondly. “I loved working with her, as she was both a huge influence and an asset in the classroom over the 13 years that we’ve been a team. I want her to know how much I valued her and couldn’t have had as much success and fun without her. And like Dorothy said of Scarecrow in the ‘Wizard of Oz,’ I will miss her the most.”
Ms. Sharon Perleman and Ms. Shawna Wanland
When asked what advice she would offer to anyone starting as a first-year teacher, Ms. Wanland said, “Follow your heart. Try and be yourself. Have fun, enjoy the students, and the rest will take care of itself.”
Now, it seems that Ms. Wanland’s life is coming full circle, as she has made the move from south Florida back to her hometown of Chicago. When explaining what prompted the move, Ms. Wanland perked up even more. “I found the love of my life! We actually met in kindergarten and grew up together. We were able to reconnect over the last couple of years. He owns a company here in Chicago, so he was not able to make the move to South Florida. Instead, I will be helping him with his work a bit. If I could’ve brought Pine Crest with me, I would have. But at this stage in my life, I feel like I had plenty of time and success in my profession, so I made the decision to follow my heart, as I always tell my students, and it brought me back home to Chicago. I’ve had a great career, great family, great friends, and now I’m ready for a great love!”
While Ms. Wanland is certainly looking forward to a slower pace in retirement, there are a couple of things that stand out for her. “I’m excited to experience seasons again, and I’m really happy about not having to wake up to an alarm clock.”
As the chapter closes for Ms. Wanland at Pine Crest, she is grateful for the unbelievable joy and lasting memories she departs with. “I love teaching more than I ever thought I would. That was always the path for me, I just didn’t always know it. I was blessed with amazing coworkers and parents and students, in a phenomenal environment. After 24 years, I feel fulfilled and like I did what I needed to do. I heard someone refer to it once not as retirement but as ‘desirement’. So that’s where I am. This is what I now desire, and I’m ready for it!”