How Ernesto Pamolarco Jr. overcame personal crises to become an accomplished NYC educator

The Special Education teacher with wife Annabel

The Special Education teacher with wife Annabel

By Marietta Timblaco-Geraldino

I first met him this July at the Philippine Consulate while working as a volunteer teacher at the Paaralan sa Konsulado, an annual summer workshop by the Association of Filipino Teachers in America, Inc. (AFTA). I immediately got drawn to his congenial personality. He is one of the Filipino Americans I met in the city who expressed genuine pride that I won the Big Apple Award for Teacher Excellence.

Then, I learned his ragged edge of survival.

Fondly called “Toto” by his friends, Ernesto Pamolarco Jr. first set foot in the United States on May 17, 2005. He came here on a three-week tourist visa to attend an international conference held at the Michigan State University. This, he seized as a prized opportunity to take a bite of the American Dream.

With the help of his uncle from North Carolina, Dr. Uldarico Datiles, Toto managed to get the approval from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for a six-month extension of his tourist visa.

Toto then visited New York City where he met Professor Lorli Dima-ala, deputy chair of the Department of Education and Psychology, Graduate Division of Touro College. The professor was instrumental in converting his tourist visa to student visa and paved the way for his enrollment in M.S. in Early Childhood and Special Education. To finance his education and still provide for his wife and six children who were left in the Philippines, he worked a series of menial jobs around the city’s three boroughs, which meant that his commute was his only time to rest.

His professional edge, work ethic, and sheer determination coalesced when he was offered a managerial job in a private physical therapy clinic in Brooklyn. Impressed by his managerial skills and educational qualifications, the PT clinic’s owner sponsored for his H-1B visa that got approved on October 1, 2009, alongside his H4 visa petition for his family.

Born in 1966 as the sixth child of a poor family of seven, Toto recalled how he used to sleep on an empty stomach and at times got hooked on drinking and gambling vices at an early age. But Toto decided to take control of his own destiny at age 13.

No, he did not leave Jubay, Calubiran, Leyte to forget his father’s tragic death, after being stabbed 28 times by their neighbor during their barangay’s fiesta night celebration. Nor did he run away from his drunkard stepfather who threatened to cut his fingers every time there was no food to eat.

At a young age, Toto has begun envisioning a better version of his life. He skipped farm work to read books. Watching a plane passing above the hill where their family’s meager farm was located awakened his desire to go places. His path to a better life began when he completed his high education.

The 17-year old Toto enrolled at the then-Naval Institute of Technology (NIT) as a freshman. As a working student attending evening classes, he had to learn how to organize and execute priorities. Besides working as a houseboy during daytime, he also worked as baker, pedaled tricycle driver, karaoke bar operator, among many other jobs, to make ends meet. On top of this, he was the associate editor of the college’s publication, The Pillar. On March 21, 1989, Toto obtained his BSE degree major in English.

Right after graduation, he began to look for a teaching job, but instead, ended up working as janitor in a school in Malabon. There, he befriended the teachers and learned from them how to take the Philippine Board Examination for Teachers (PBET), which he passed in one take. In 1990, he got his first teaching job as an English Teacher at the Quiapo Parochial School. He received a scholarship at the University of Asia and the Pacific in Pasig City in 1996, was promoted to Master Teacher in 1998, and got assigned to teach in Caloocan High School, the second biggest high school in Asia in terms of student population, on the same year.

Christmas evening mass for the Pamolarco family at the Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Manhattan

Christmas evening mass for the Pamolarco family at the Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Manhattan

In 1999, Mr. Pamolarco represented the Philippines to the RELC-SEAMEO in Singapore. He finished his Master of Arts in Educational Administration degree at the Philippine Normal University (PNU) in 2001 and was a recipient of many teaching awards in the Philippines and internationally.

Then in 2005, he was granted a U.S. tourist visa to attend a conference at the Michigan State University. The break he has been dreaming about presented itself on a platter.

Ernesto S. Pamolarco, Jr. has since been working as Special Education teacher in a New York City school and concurrently the manager in the Physical Therapy Clinic in Brooklyn. He currently serves as chairman of non-profit Youth Success Global Foundation, Inc., an organization that aims to help pre-kindergarten to high school students with special needs and those at risk for academic failure. He is also an active member of the U.S, Pinoys for Good Governance and the Knights of Rizal (New York Chapter).

Just this October 13th, Toto received the Pan American Concerned Citizens Action League, Inc. award for Education in a ceremony held at the Ramada Hotel in Newark, New Jersey.

So how did Toto overcome his personal crises and conquer the Big Apple? Stephen Covey’s first three habits of “Personal Victories” may shed some light: Be proactive; begin with the end in mind; and, put first things first.

Toto feels no regrets and believes that “the people I met along the way and the undesirable circumstances I went through were all God’s design to help me become the person I am meant to be.”


  1. anna wrote:

    Im very proud of you kuya toto!

  2. ernie durana wrote:

    Way to go Tukayo! I have been following your posts in FB and reading your story, I feel both honor and pride to have met your acquaintance in NY. Your success is a source of inspiration to our kababayan who are carving their own piece of the American dream. You have shown that diligence , perseverance and hardwork pays ….,whatever your station in life and wherever your dream will take you. Congratulations and more power!

  3. rowena arenga wrote:

    May i add, Mr. Ernesto Pamolarco jr was our English professor in Caloocan City Polytechnic College. he is among those few professors/teachers who has influenced/changed my perspective about education. I was then very conscious/critical about the grading system of some of the professors in CCPC, he told me that “grades” are only numbers what matters is that how much you have learned”. TRUE, a student does not enroll to get high grades or the grades that he is expecting to receive, he enrolls because he wants to be educated.
    To you sir Ernesto Pamolarco, jr.. CONGRATULATIONS and continue to IMPRESS us. GOD BLESS po. In behalf of my batch mate BSBA II-B….

  4. Congratulations, Ernie. What a good successful life you have! You have climbed a high mountain to reach the top.

  5. edna wrote:

    proud of you my kababayan….it only proves that poverty is not at all a hindrance to having a good future

  6. We are so proud of you sir not only for your achievements but as a person with a good heart…I remember we (II-St.Charles of Quiapo Parochial School) were your first Advisory Class (most controversial Section po ata during that time hehehe). Some of us or most of us po ata hehehe are pinakamakulit na class…but you stand and fought for us po…Salamat po sir, so proud po naging part po kayo ng namin at pag nakita namin kayo anywhere around the world we can tell sa mga banyaga that”TEACHER KO YUN”….God Bless po sir, sana mahawahan nyo po kami ng kahit konting achievements nyo 🙂

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