Family Connections : Maricella Borroel

When Maricella Borroel was getting ready to go off to boarding school for the first time, it was a gift from a family member that brought home how much her life was soon to change: “When my tia sent me a ski hat, I knew how different it was going to be — different climate, even different clothes.” Before she even arrived at the prestigious Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., Borroel had made up her mind to embrace those differences and learn from them.

“Andover was a world in and of itself,” she says of the venerable prep school she entered at age 14. After attending public schools on San Antonio’s West Side, she found going away to this elite institution “was a cultural adjustment in every facet.” Like her older brother, Fred, she was recruited as a sixth-grader by a program that matches students with scholarship-granting private schools.

While Fred was still a student at Andover during her first two years there, “We were a minority in the minority there,” she says, laughing. “Coming from the West Side, where there’s a large Latino population, you take for granted that there are people around you to identify with. Outside (the neighborhood), you have to identify yourself in different ways, make connections with other people for what you share with them.” Her parents had been supportive of both children, though their acceptance at Andover took them far from home. “Apart from family, education is what’s most important to me,” says Borroel. “It all starts with my parents, and I appreciate and admire the emphasis they put on education. They gave us a core foundation of strength to build on. Every step of the way, they’ve been there, telling me, ‘You can do it, and we’ll be here to help if you need it.’” Now, as director of early childhood services at KLRN-TV, her job is to help other families take an active part in the education of young children. If you’re a frequent viewer of San Antonio’s PBS station, you’ll have seen public-service announcements about workshops for caregivers, student writing contests and other events that blend educational concepts from the network’s popular children’s programs with skills-building sessions for adults.

KLRN is a partnering agency in the city-sponsored Early ON School Readiness Program and coordinates Grow with Me, a United Way-funded program that concentrates on West Side families.

This and other programs that target children from birth through age 8 aim to educate not only children but their parents and other caregivers. “Some people (who take care of young children) don’t see themselves as teachers,” she says. “We tell them, ‘You’re the most important person in your child’s life; don’t wait until kinder to start teaching.’”

KLRN offers a mix of approaches to getting this message out to those who need what Borroel calls “a gentle nudge to embrace the role that they’re playing.” Last September, for instance, the station sponsored Mission Possible, a family day at a playoff game where 200 children and caregivers were treated to a San Antonio Missions playoff game, where KLRN distributed books and offered activities such as “B is for Baseball,” where adults and children played an “I Spy”-style game. “We’re trying to show them that any time is learning time,” says Borroel.

More recently, a series of neighborhood “cafes” gave family members a chance to share what they’ve learned about caring for young children while identifying their own skills as educators. At one of these informal conversations, says Borroel, “a grandmother told me, ‘I used to think of myself as just a baby sitter. Now I see how he’s curious, that he wants to explore, and I’m starting to talk with him more.’ She’s starting to be more confident in herself as a teacher.”

KLRN’s early-childhood programs also appeal directly to the children, as in a Young Writers and Artists contest that asks children in grades K-3 to submit stories they have written and illustrated. Borroel says, “When the winners are announced, we have a ceremony and invite the families to recognize their children’s efforts.”

Some of the activities just help increase the station’s visibility, like the festival in Rosedale Park where a costumed character from Sid the Science Kid made an appearance. “It’s interesting to see families make connections with KLRN,” says Borroel. As KLRN has intensified its outreach programs, she says, “people aren’t so surprised to see us anymore, but it’s always amazing to see how grateful families are. That’s positive feedback. It tells us they want more from us.”

The focus of Borroel’s position is program design, but she also spends a large amount of time out in the community. “What I love about my job is that every day’s different,” she says. “I might be in a meeting with community partners, or I might be talking with our trainers and families, working to identify their needs, then strategizing about how to modify our programs to meet those needs.”

Though her education at Andover and Boston University might seem distant from the basics taught by KLRN’s early-childhood programs, Borroel feels her own experience had a lot to do with her career choice. Between her junior and senior years at Andover, for instance, she spent a summer studying in Salamanca, Spain.

Since childhood, Borroel had thought she would become a teacher. While she earned a bachelor’s degree in early-childhood education, Borroel realized she didn’t want to restrict herself to the classroom. After practice teaching during her senior year, she again followed her older brother, this time into the AmeriCorps national-service program. Borroel decided on an opening in Austin as a reading tutor in a kinder class at an elementary school while volunteering with a community organization.

“I knew I wanted a career that would be a marriage between my education and my passion (for community work),” she says. After completing her AmeriCorps service, she decided to move back to San Antonio, where she worked for the family-support organization AVANCE as a home visitor helping families access services with a variety of agencies. She was promoted to program coordinator of AVANCE’s Early ON program, from which she heard about an opening for her present position at KLRN, where she has worked since 2008.

“I wanted to extend my reach to a larger community,” she says. “I felt it was important to apply what I was learning from the families (we served), and I knew about KLRN’s services and programs. It’s not just a broadcast station.” KLRN is one of only 20 PBS stations to provide Ready to Learn services out of 370 stations nationwide. “We are recognized as one of the leaders,” she says.

In her own family, she is surrounded by other educators: Her older brother is a counselor with ChildSafe, which provides services to survivors of abuse; her sister-in-law teaches in the Head Start school-readiness program; her younger brother is teaching in South Korea; and her mother works in the Edgewood Independent School District.

“We grew up knowing that nothing, except family, was more important than education, and I was always impressed and inspired by my teachers,” says Borroel. “That’s why I wanted to go into education: I wanted to do something that is important to everybody.”

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