Flora “Flo” Felipe Maristela


A young lady dressed in a white uniform with a white cap entered the school doors. She was the first nurse ever to be assigned to San Jacinto Elementary School in Masbate. Fresh from being an exchange student nurse from the US, she personified what I wanted to do in life. I dreamt of becoming a nurse and going to the US.

After graduating from high school as salutatorian, my plan was to enroll at UP School of Nursing. My plans did not, however, coincide with my parents’ plans for me which was to follow their footsteps to become a teacher. In 1957, my father enrolled me into Philippine Normal College for teachers. I finished college in three years. To my parents’ delight, I taught fifth grade for the next six years in my hometown, San Jacinto. In my heart, I was not happy with my career.

Thinking that I had fulfilled my duty to follow my parents’ desires, I decided that it was time for a career change. In 1967, I went back to Manila to follow my nursing dream. That dream was quickly shattered again when the UP School of Nursing wanted me to start as a freshman. The idea of going through another four years of undergraduate studies was not appealing to me. Instead, I took the UP Ikot jeep to the Education Department and enrolled in the Education Graduate Program.

In April 1969, I graduated with an MA in Education, majoring in General Education at the Diliman Campus. I was 26, married and with my first child on his way. My husband, Antonio Maristela, who was my elementary and high school classmate, joined the US Navy and was waiting for me to join him in the US. Meanwhile, I was teaching at the Araneta Foundation Grade School during the day and was also an instructor at the Araneta Department of Education in the evening. I served as a member of the Philippine Association of University Women. I also represented the university in the Association of University Audio-Visual Instructors at conferences, seminars and meetings. A feeling of accomplishment by working in a tough academic environment was a validation of my choice of a noble profession

By 1972, with my two sons, ages three and two, we moved to the US to join my husband in Groton, Connecticut. The Navy moved us from one duty station to another – Virginia, Illinois and finally, California. By the time we headed to San Diego in 1978, we were a family of five after the birth of my daughter in Illinois. My parental authoritarian upbringing would clash with the American permissive but nurturing environment. It was my Master’s thesis on the Effects of Different Patterns of Child Rearing Practices of Filipino Mothers on the Achievement of Their Elementary School Children that guided me and Tony in raising our children and meeting all the challenges in a culturally- diversified society like California.

California opened new horizons for me. I felt ready to find a job outside of the home. With my degree from UP, I was able to get a teaching credential and was hired to teach in the Chula Vista School District. In 1982, when our school was transferred to the San Diego County Office of Education, there were a few credentials in my reach.

Working full time, going to school at night and raising three kids at the same time was never easy. When Tony was on a six-month deployment I was a single mother but, my UP training, my determination and the support of my family helped me get pass the obstacles of a wife, full-time student and working mother. In 1983, I obtained my Severely and Profoundly Handicapped Specialist and Multiple-Subject credentials from the San Diego State University.

My three kids are also products of the California university system. Antonio, the eldest graduated from UCSD. He is serving as First Lieutenant in the USANG. Edward graduated from UCI and is an artist in the computer animation industry. Farah, who completed her MS degree from SDSU, is a social worker for the Department of Child Welfare Services where she works with medically fragile foster kids. I like to think that I may have influenced her career goal.

After eighteen years of service at the SDCOE, I finally retired. I still enjoy returning as a substitute teacher. I find my years working with developmentally disabled students an uplifting experience. It has been a humbling and meaningful endeavor. I seemed to have found a niche where I reconciled my early calling with my destiny in a distinctive place called Friendship School. Touching the lives of children with very special needs has fulfilled my original ambition to be a nurse while impacting their academic development as a teacher. I guess my parents were right all along. Apparently, the school agreed with them because in 1995 the SDCOE recognized my efforts with a Friendship School Teacher of the Year Award.