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Meet MariaBeatriz Morales Barberena of Amiguitos Spanish Immersion

Today we’d like to introduce you to MariaBeatriz Morales Barberena.

Hi MariaBeatriz, so excited to have you on the platform. So before we get into questions about your work-life, maybe you can bring our readers up to speed on your story and how you got to where you are today?
I was born in Mexico City where my aunt worked as the Assistant Superintendent and was in charge of all the elementary school principals of her the district. As a child, I would spend three months out of the summer at her schools where I would hang out with the teachers and learn as much as I could from them. I believe this is where my love of teaching arose. In high school, now living in the US, I ran the church youth group and became the Sunday school teacher for our elementary students. Over the summer, I would return to Mexico and became responsible for a summer camp where we would stay over a week in the wilderness teaching students how to build shelters, tables, chairs, etc. It was truly where I needed to be.

During my undergraduate school, I worked at an after school program as the Director and was responsible for the team members who worked alongside me. Together we then began to offer after school sports programs such as soccer and basketball. During spring breaks, I would travel to Ecuador to work as a missionary where we taught underprivileged children. At the time, the campus was a private elementary school during the day and in the evening, became the school for the children we taught. Immediately after undergraduate school I started teaching at a high school in Laredo, TX where my focus was in teaching Art and Psychology. At this school, I taught for several years before I went back to graduate school as a Clinical Art Therapist.

During my short lived career as a therapist I worked at a psychiatric clinic for children 3 years to 14 years of age and divided my time as a mental health therapist at an alternative middle school. I then returned to teaching, at a preschool level where I was the preschool teacher and then became an elementary school counselor. Fast forward a couple years, I became pregnant with my two beautiful twin boys. After their birth, I struggled with managing my time between my new born babies and the children I cared for. At the time, one of my fellow counselors mentioned to me that she had her children at an in-home childcare and that she would introduce me to the woman who had been running it for 20 years. This amazing woman became my mentor and guided me as to how to open up a fully licensed in-home childcare through the State of Texas. Many of my teacher friends and friends of whom I’d worked with though out the years thought this would be a great idea for me. Amiguitos Spanish Immersion Academy started from a worry in my mind as a new mama of twins and quickly became my pride and joy. All of our first students where neighbors, or teachers kids that I had known through the years in my career. This new adventure truly gave me a sense of tranquility and peace knowing that I could teach my own children while continuing to love and educate others as well. My vision of where I needed to be was finally a reality. I could now teach my boys everything I wanted. The most important thing was to help them see and grow to love who we are and where we come from.

As a proud Mexican woman and resent immigrant, I wanted my boys to know about their roots! It was imperative for me to be able to teach them about their Mexican heritage through language. Being able to teach them the Spanish language then became my focus. When it came time to name our little school, I remembered always calling my students “Friends”. One day, I was returning back home to Austin from a trip to Mexico City where I sat next to a high school student in the plane. I asked him if he would be able to pronounce Amiguitos. He had mentioned that it sounded like the word Amigo that he had learned in Spanish class and mentioned he thought most American’s would be able to pronounce Amiguitos. That was the official birth date of the name “Amiguitos.” Amiguitos took off running! We are very proud to say that we grew organically and thus created the first expansion of our school. My mother at the time, lived a few streets down so we expanded our care out of two homes. Our wait list kept growing and was always at full capacity. This inspired a new need for Amiguitos, the potential for a new facility. My husband and I began looking for commercial sites that took about three years to find.

Fast forward to December of 2019, and many hours of hard work, we were able to rent a new beautiful location behind Holy Cross Lutheran church on South Lamar. Despite COVID-19, Snowpocalypse and many challenges, our small business was able to stay afloat with the payment protection loans and the support of our staff and families who never let us down. January 6, 2021. (Mexican 3 kings’ day) we were finally able to open the doors to live out our dream and educate many more children in Austin. I am happy to say that with over 20 years of teacher and counseling experience combined, Amiguitos is here to open its heart to the children of Austin to guide them in their love for Spanish and love for learning in another language. My credentials are as follows: Over 20 years teaching and counseling experience. MA in Art Therapy Counseling is an LPC-Intern, Licensed Director, Bilingual EC-4, and All Level Art and School Counseling Texas License.

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
We have had several struggles as a small in home day care. I see an in-home daycare as a great opportunity to give back to society however, one of our neighbors did not. He lived 17 houses down from my mom’s home and he would constantly harass my mom by leaving notes on her car, calling CPS, the City of Austin Code compliance as well as the fire department. It wasn’t until CPS told him that he could be sued for misusing Texas funding in an inappropriate way did he stop. Then, we rented out our space on December 2019, till Jan 6, 2021 we had multiple struggles trying to get all of our licenses and permits during Covid among other hardships we were able to survive and open up our doors Jan 6, 2021.

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about Amiguitos Spanish Immersion?
Amiguitos Spanish Immersion Academy is a safe and caring environment for educating students. We are 100% Spanish immersion. We educate little ones in a fun and loving environment meeting each child where they are at and helping them develop a love for learning. We believe in helping students become fully bi literate, bi cultural, and bi lingual. What sets us apart from other Spanish Immersion programs is that we were started not as a business, but as a way to give back to our community. What we stand for: Kindness, Respect and Gratitude Not only do we practice this with our students, we embed this in our Teachers as well as Administrators. The way we communicate with our families is in a transparent and nurturing way.

We are flexible with our words and actions but we are firm with our belief that we can all respect and care for each other no matter what the situation. We are most proud of our Teachers. They are dedicated, eager to teach and gentle with the kids. Although English is their second language, they have great relationships with the parents of our students. It is always amazing to hear them voice their concerns if one of their kids seems “out of sorts” or “different” on that day. They are truly in tune with their kids and as a mother, that speaks volume.

Can you talk to us about how you think about risk?
Opening up a Spanish Immersion Academy during a pandemic, being a woman, and immigrant are all risks. We relied on God and his blessing to help us through the hard times. Though many families pulled their children out of our school because they were scared, lost their jobs, or just found it difficult to continue given the circumstance, we believed that despite our own fears of losing our business, giving our families and our teachers the respect and care they also needed, would help us get through. We made the decision to pay all teachers at 100% though they were not working their hours and offering the families who stayed with us to pay what they could as well as not charging anyone who left the 30 day notice. This was a very risky move on our part because we could have lost everything. However we were blessed to receive the Payment Protection Loan that helped us cover salaries for our people. Doing the right thing for our staff and families was always more important to us than trying to save our business. In the end, our transparency prevailed.

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1 Comment

  1. FRANCISCO JAVIER BECERRA CHIU

    April 21, 2021 at 5:00 pm

    felicidades mary gran educadora , gran empresario pero sobre todo una gran persona un abrazo

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