Outdoor learning is expanding on Pine Crest School’s Boca Raton and Fort Lauderdale campuses allowing students and faculty to enjoy the countless benefits and lasting impact of outdoor education and play.
By: Courtney Klar ’22
As she walked across the stage to receive her Pine Crest School diploma, Mrs. Michelle (Smith) Santarelli ’89 never imagined that her career path would one day lead her back to her educational roots. From a fourth grade student in the Lower School to a biology teacher in the Upper School, and a parent of two Pine Crest “lifers,” John ’21 and Jaden ’23, Mrs. Santarelli now cannot envision herself anywhere else.
After Mrs. Santarelli graduated from Pine Crest in 1989, she attended the University of Virginia, where she received a degree in biology. Upon graduating from college, she began her career as a marketing director for an educational tutoring company. While she did well in the position, she quickly realized that her true passions were for biology and teaching. “I never thought I wanted to be a teacher,” said Mrs. Santarelli. “I worked in an educational environment, which is what attracted me to that company. But I missed biology and wanted to find a way to combine biology and my love of public speaking. That was the first time I decided to become a teacher. I knew the only place I wanted to do that was Pine Crest.”
On teaching biology, Mrs. Santarelli says “science is the one field that always captivated me—living organisms are so complex. What I love about biology is that there is so much we don't know. Biology is exciting, and there are discoveries being made every day!”
When speaking about what keeps her at Pine Crest, Mrs. Santarelli says the students and her colleagues. “What is great about Pine Crest students,” she said, “is that if you are excited about something, they are excited about it too. My students love learning just as much as I do.”
By: Spencer Davimos ’22
Mr. Andrew Schwartz has been a member of the Pine Crest Upper School Science Department since 2007. Originally from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Mr. Schwartz had not considered a career in education until serving as a teacher’s aid as a graduate student. Now, after 20 years of teaching, Mr. Schwartz can’t imagine doing anything else!
I sat down with Mr. Schwartz to learn more about his teaching career and what he loves about being an educator at Pine Crest.
Spencer Davimos ’22 (SD): Did you always want to be an educator? Did you have a career doing something different before you started teaching?
Andrew Schwartz (AS): I never really thought about teaching until I spent time as a teacher’s aid in graduate school teaching a zoology lab. I was struck with how rewarding it was to help students learn the biological concepts I found so interesting. After three years of doing research for my master's degree, I realized I didn't have it in me for another four years of field and lab work to get my doctoral degree. When I moved to South Florida, I needed a job and took a position teaching seventh grade science. This was quite an adjustment and much different than teaching college students. I found this experience very challenging, and immediately I knew that if I was going to continue my teaching career, it needed to be with older, more independent students.
SD: What brought you to Pine Crest and how long have you been teaching here?
AS: After my first teaching job, I moved to another local school where I taught high school biology. I stayed there for four years honing my craft and gaining valuable experience in the classroom. During that time, I was working at Pine Crest Summer Camp waiting for an opportunity to join the Pine Crest faculty. That opportunity came in 2007 and I jumped at it. The rest is history.
SD: Have you always enjoyed the sciences? What drew you to teaching biology as opposed to the other sciences?
AS: It has always been biology for me. Going back as long as I can remember, I've been fascinated with the natural world. In my elementary school yearbook, I wrote that I wanted to be an underwater shark scientist. I never thought about teaching biology but I knew that biology had to be part of my life. I entered college as a pre-veterinary student but quickly realized that medicine wasn't for me. I enjoyed learning and doing research, but I just wasn't into medicine. I minored in chemistry and after graduating from college, I thought about working in a lab. I ultimately went to graduate school to earn a masters degree in biology.
SD: What do you love about science and biology in particular?
AS: Science, especially biology, is amazing! Learning about how the universe works (physics, chemistry, biology) fascinates me. The quest for knowledge is never-ending; answers to questions only beget more questions. There is so much still to discover about the natural world and how organisms function, and I love that I get to be part of this discovery.
SD: What do you enjoy most about teaching high school students?
AS: High school students are the perfect blend of child and adult. Pine Crest Upper School students, in particular, are well-read, well-traveled, and quite interesting. You can have an intelligent conversation with them about everything from sports and current affairs to genetic engineering and astronomy.
SD: What has been one of the highlights of teaching at Pine Crest?
AS: I can't pinpoint one specific highlight, but working at Pine Crest has given me the freedom to grow as an educator and scientist that I'm sure I wouldn't have had at another school. We have so much autonomy in the classroom, support from administration and parents, and almost unlimited access to resources. Coupling that with smart, dedicated colleagues makes coming to work such a rewarding process. So many people are miserable in their jobs, hate getting up in the morning, and are just going through the motions. Since I started teaching at Pine Crest, I've never felt that way, and I'm so thankful for that.
SD: What are your hobbies beyond teaching in the classroom?
AS: I like going to the gym, riding my bike, and running. Fitness and health are very important to me. I love fantasy football and all things Philadelphia. I enjoy cooking and reading “nerdy” science books.
SD: What would students be surprised to learn about you?
AS: I wrestled and did gymnastics as a kid (through high school) and can probably still do a couple tricks if my old body would let me.
SD: Do you sponsor any clubs at Pine Crest? What do you like about working with students in this capacity?
AS: I was asked this year to sponsor the Middle Eastern Heritage Club. Not sure how I fit in, but I am happy to help in any way I can. I was also the sophomore class sponsor for years. As I said previously, our students are great, and being able to interact with them in different capacities (club sponsor, coach, etc.) helps to build strong relationships that are important to them and to me.
SD: What is the most gratifying part about being a teacher? What has been your proudest moment?
AS: The most gratifying part about being a teacher is knowing that you are contributing something positive to society. Seeing the wonderful things our students accomplish in college and beyond and knowing that you've had a part in it, even if it was a very minor part, is extremely fulfilling.
Upper School Science Instructors Megan O'Brien, Andrew Schwartz, and Michelle Santarelli ’89
Longtime educator Joe Kelley has retired after 43 years of teaching, 22 of which he spent at Pine Crest School.
Brad Austin ’97 began his undergraduate career thinking he was going to be a veterinarian. “When I started at the University of Florida, they wanted you to declare a major right away,” said Brad. “I found Animal Sciences and thought, ‘I like animals, I like being outside,’ and it seemed cool.”
Pine Crest School received three Anatomage Tables recently.
Anatomage Tables are virtual dissecting tables that are generally used by medical schools such as the Mayo Clinic to allow medical students the opportunity to perform virtual autopsies. One Table is located in an Upper School Huizenga Family Science Building classroom. The additional Tables are located in the Middle School life science classrooms — one on the Boca Raton campus and one on the Fort Lauderdale campus.