Sissi Varela, from left, assists one of her students as she creates various shapes with cardboard blocks during the student rotation exercises.
HOUSTON – Dec. 7, 2017 – To spend a day in Sissi Varela’s prekindergarten classroom at Anderson Elementary School is to dive into a world of learning, creativity and music that reflects the diverse skills of a dedicated teacher and seasoned news reporter.
Varela shares a love and passion for education and news communications, which are evident in her classroom and teaching style at Anderson. She also happens to be a national news correspondent for the Spanish-language Univision network and their newsmagazine show Primer Impacto.
“A mix of education and the news media have always been a passion of mine since I was young. I enjoyed them so much, I volunteered at my daughter’s school and even started a Spanish club for kids,” said Varela.
Varela recalls her daughter’s principal at Ponderosa Elementary School in Spring ISD asking her why she had not already gotten an alternative certification to teach since she held a degree from her native Colombia and knew how much she loved the education field.
Ultimately, for Varela it was an easy choice, and she considers it some of the best advice she has ever received. She decided to earn her alternative certification and balance her two careers as an educator and news correspondent – prekindergarten teacher at Spring ISD during the morning hours and news reporter for Univision in the afternoon.
Varela was already a well-recognized, public relations professional and award-winning television, radio, and print media reporter in Colombia for nearly two decades before arriving to the United States , and was currently a network correspondent for Univision.
Her career as a journalist is not something many people at her own school are aware of even now, but something her bilingual, Spanish-speaking students and families eventually figure out because they recognize her from her appearances on TV. She said they occasionally ask of that was her they saw reporting on TV live from Houston or during national newscasts that normally air on the national newscast during school hours.
Although she once thought of each career separately, she now she sees them as a perfect mix for her classroom and reporting.
Just recently her new campus administrators, Principal Kristin Falcon and Assistant Principal LaToya Patterson, found out about her being a national news correspondent.
“I was very surprised,” said Falcon. “I immediately googled her to check out some of her work, and I was so impressed. It was like having our own celebrity here at Anderson. Her experience as a reporter certainly enhances her teaching performance.”
Varela sees her role as a bilingual prekindergarten educator as a vital one in the lives of the children and parents who she impacts on a daily basis in both English and Spanish. She also firmly believes that her background and experience in communications has helped her make connections both in the classroom and with the students’ parents.
“I love teaching prekindergarten. I wholeheartedly do,” said Varela. “I am very aware of the research studies that state that young children have the opportunity to soar. And we have to take advantage of that at this age. Our kids have to be in school as early as they can to learn.”
One of her goals is to prepare students for life beyond the classroom. She hopes to instill, foster and inspire a love for school and learning in her students. This is something that her campus administration sees Varela do by inspiring both current and former students.
“I think field correspondents like Ms. Varela have to be able to connect with and relate to people in order to get to the heart of a story, and she does just that with her students and their families,” said Patterson. “Her background has the potential to inspire all of our students to learn more than one language. Many of our bilingual students know of her from Univision and are super excited when they discover their teacher is on the news.”
Varela has been the recipient of the coveted Bilingual Teacher of the Year award three times: in 2012, 2014 and 2017. She did her undergraduate studies at the Universidad de la Sabana in Chia, Colombia and earned her graduate degree from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois in Arts and Radio TV.
“To balance two incredibly wonderful careers is a testament to her dedication and commitment,” said Patterson.