Teacher Ronie Mataquel: Back to school with excitement, dread

‘Life is a learning process.’

By Mayette Geraldino & Cristina DC Pastor

Consider Ronie Mataquel one of the thousands of public school teachers excited to return to work a year after the global pandemic put a pause on New York City life.

Ronie, a Math teacher at John Bowne High School in Queens, is one of nearly 75,000 public school teachers in New York City. A rarity if one were to consider that he belongs to underrepresented ranks: He is male, and he is Asian. Asian male teachers comprise a tiny fraction of 1.5 percent – or 1,200 as of 2015-16 data  – of the NYC teaching population, according to NYC Men Teach.

But Ronie is not just a Math teacher in high school. He has other teaching positions he juggles: He is an adjunct lecturer at Queensborough Community College and Brooklyn College and recently hired as site coordinator of Philippine Christian University Transnational Education Extension program in the United States.

“I am excited to meet my students but a little cautious about the fall semester,” he said when interviewed by The FilAm. “The Delta variant is currently surging in the U.S. I am scared that we’re going to have another COVID outbreak if we rush it too fast.”

Ronie is a highly regarded leader in the Filipino American community. He co-founded the United Federation of Fil-Am Educators, also known as UNIFFIED, with Lumen Castaneda, a senior colleague who has encouraged and supported his leadership goals. He was president of UNIFFIED from 2013 to 2014.  He was elected to the Philippine Independence Day Board of Director from 2016 to 2018. During that time, he became the PIDCI Parade Chair in 2017. He was one of the organizers of an international educators’ summit in New York, Maryland, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, and Philippines. He initiated the Roof Over Their Head project for Typhoon Haiyan Victims, the Feed A Child, Build a Community Feeding Program, and the Gabay sa Kinabukasan Scholarship grants.

The Mataquels of the Bronx: Ronie and Justeena with daughters (standing) Chaille Angela, 19 and Danielle Suzanne,16; and (seated) Maxine Grace, 6.

Despite the demanding responsibility being a co-founder of UNIFFIED, Ronie established another flagship during the pandemic. The UNIFFIED Multicultural Adult Literacy Program, in partnership with the MMCC-Pelham Cornerstone, provides citizenship, basic language lessons and high school equivalency virtual classes to diverse populations.  He serves as the program director. UNIFFIED is possibly the largest Filipino American teachers organization with 20 chapters in the U.S. and at least 71 in the Philippines and other countries.

“Community service is already my lifestyle. Never in my wildest dreams would I have even begun to imagine that community service could be such a rewarding experience,” he said.

From poverty to leadership

Ronie rose from poverty to teacher leadership through sheer hard work, the strength of his faith, and street smarts he acquired from growing up in the remote village of Sibalom in Antique all the way to the dangerous streets of NYC.

In Sibalom, he would wake up worrying what clothes to wear from the few shirts he owned and stress over what food to pack for lunch, if there was ever any. He would then walk to school for an hour, and walk back home. But rise from adversity he did until he found himself in New York City where he carved a career and began a family.

In NYC, he was recognized as an exemplary educator judging from the many awards he has received from community organizations including the 2018 Fil-AM Teacher of the Year from the Philippine American Community of the East Coast, Inc.  In 2017, the United Federation of Teachers union of nearly 200,000 members conferred on him the Excellence in Education Award. A similar recognition was given by the New York Family Magazine in 2018.

Ronie believes “success is a journey,” and along the way comes a series of obstacles.

“I believe no one is born with skills, knowledge and experience. Everything is a learning process coupled with perseverance, hard work, sacrifices, love for work and prayers,” he said.

When he was parade chair in 2017 of the Philippine Independence Day Parade on Madison Avenue.

Ronie came to the U.S. in 2002 and his first stop was in Sacramento. He moved to NYC a year later to join the teaching staff of John Bowne High School. As he acquired greater skills and confidence, his enriched experience has brought him to other schools, including the Lander College for Men, a division of Touro College, a private Jewish university.

“Leaving (the country) in order to live is a way that brings unfathomable pain,” he said. “However, it is an experience worth trying.”

Born in Sibalom to parents Nicolas Mataquel Sr. and Rosemarie Lumauag, Ronie thought at first that education would bring more hardship to his family because of the costs involved. It did not happen that way. Through a barangay scholarship, he finished his grade and high school education with outstanding performance. He continued to receive the scholarship until he finished his Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education at the University of Antique. He then obtained his Masters of Arts in Education major in Elementary Mathematics through the Mathematics Teachers Association of the Philippines (MTAP) Scholarship Grant. He completed his Doctor of Education major in Educational Management in 2019 and currently completing his Doctor of Philosophy in Development Administration major in Educational Governance at the Philippine Christian University, Manila

In 2001, he married Justeena Casareno, a first-grade teacher at Pembo Elementary School in Makati, while he was a sixth-grade teacher in the same school. The following year was the start of his journey to the U.S. The couple is blessed with three smart daughters Chaille Angela, 19; Danielle Suzanne, 16; and Maxine Grace, 6. Danielle recounted that her dad loves her very much because he used to braid her hair in pigtails when she was in kindergarten.

“I am nothing without my husband,” Justeena chimed in. “We went through very rough years, but he never gave up.”   

© The FilAm 2021

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