Volunteer Carolina Doering of Boca Raton teaches Spanish to preschoolers at the Fuller Center. She previously taught in her native Venezuela and in South County. Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star
By Brian Biggane
Not everyone is cut out to teach preschool. Sure, kids can be adorably cute at that age, but they can also cry for their mommies, decide it’s naptime in the middle of class or simply refuse to do what they’re told.
In more than 40 years as an educator— much of it dealing with preschool children— Boca Raton’s Carolina Doering has seen all that and more. And after lengthy stints at schools in both Venezuela and Palm Beach County and ultimately retiring, she’s back at it, teaching preschoolers for the past eight years as a volunteer at the Fuller Center in Boca.
“People don’t realize how important the first years of your life are,” Doering said. “Everything you learn up to 5 years old is going to stay with you for the rest of your life. And these kids have the opportunity to learn so many things, and get to elementary school with a big, big base. That gives them self-esteem, that gives them security. It’s so important what preschool years do for your future.”
The great grand-daughter of a doctor in Venezuela who built a hospital on land he donated to the government, Doering came to the U.S. to earn a degree in education from the University of Florida in the mid ’80s. She then returned home to Caracas before moving to Isla de Margarita in 1986.
“When I moved to the island there were no schools there,” she said. “I started my preschool and more and more people moved there, and the parents proposed we make a big school from the preschool.
“It got to a point where we had 180 kids and 27 people on my staff at the preschool and they bought me out,” she said. “I agreed to stay on for five years, but when that time was over the situation in the country was getting bad and my sister, who lives in Wellington, convinced me to come here.”
She made the move with her two teenage sons in 2005. She tried to start a day care center but that was unsuccessful, so she joined the staff of the now-closed Claremont Montessori School, where she stayed for nine years, teaching Spanish.
Doering, 65, retired in 2013 but felt the need to give back. After exploring the possibilities, she landed at the Fuller Center, a school for underprivileged preschoolers that, as its website claims, gives children a chance “to pave their pathway out of the generational cycle of poverty.”
After a year as a teacher’s assistant, she became the school’s Spanish teacher in 2015 and works with 15-20 children in each of six classes for 30 minutes each one day a week.
“My class is fun,” she said. “If you’re going to teach a language it has to be fun, especially with preschool kids.
“I do a lot of songs (and) I have a lot of resources. I speak in Spanish, and I translate what the song says, but there’s a time when I don’t have to anymore. We sing about good morning, the days of the week and colors. I teach by themes and try to make it fun.”
Several of her kids come from households where Spanish is the first language. “In the beginning of the year they feel good because they have the answers. It’s amazing how they catch on. They don’t have much exposure to the world, but they’re so sharp, so smart. Every year they’re smarter.”
Three or four years ago, Doering and her husband, Craig, adopted a class, which brings the school additional resources. Two years ago, she was offered a spot on the board of directors and accepted. She is also active in America Developing Smiles, a Miami-based nonprofit that raises money to further the education of children in several Latin American countries.
“Life has been good for me, so you have to give back,” Doering said. “I believe you have to give back doing things.
“I say to Craig, ‘I don’t want to give money. Let’s go there and work for them.’ I believe that you have to do it. You have to be involved. That way I keep in touch with kids. I feel young because of that. Being in touch with young kids gives you a good experience.”
Doering said it’s important that the community continues to support the Fuller Center in various ways: volunteering, tutoring, mentoring and fundraising. “Our motto is ‘Tomorrow Begins Today,’ so please help us make a lasting impact in our children and families.”
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