Margarita Mojica knows how education can change someone's life, because it changed hers.
To her students, she's known as Mrs. Mojica - a teacher at Glenview Middle School in East Moline. However, it's her work outside of the classroom that's made her known across the Quad Cites.
"The impact she has made in this community is beyond the walls of this school," said Juanita Zertuche. "It is amazing and positive."
Juanita has gotten to know Margarita through LULAC, the League of United Latin American Citizens. A few years ago, Margarita was the recipient of LULAC's Ford Driving Dream Grant, which helped her and her colleague launch One by One.
One by One started in fall 2013 with 75 students to expose them to colleges around the area. Since then, the group and its goal has grown:
"We started with just targeting 8th grade students and then we had 7th grade students who were asking about the program and so we added a 7th and 8th grade," explained Margarita.
"Middle school is a difficult time period to go through transitioning from childhood to young adulthood," she added. "It’s difficult as it is and so they weren’t quite making the strongest academic decisions and once the students were at the high school level, those who did manage to make it to 12th grade, they were saying – How do I get into college? - and they hadn’t taken the necessary courses in order to prepare them well, so my colleague and I said we need to do something at the middle school level."
One by One meets after school for study groups, takes field trips to college campuses, connects with mentors in the area, and learns important life skills. The 2019-2020 school year is the 7th year for the program and Margarita calls it's "a treasure"... because it's working:
"We are proud to say that our first group – our alumni group - are currently sophomores at colleges and universities in the region and also outside of our region," she said.
"To hear that they are doing well at high school, that they are graduating in record numbers, they’re moving onto college – that’s exactly what we wanted."
"Her students are in college and they’re going to the University of Iowa, they’re going to Augustana College, they’re going to all these major universities – some have gotten academic achievement scholarships because of their academics - and I think that goes back to what she has taught them," Juanita said about Margarita. "Those students, when they come back, they come and visit her. I think that’s telling, because they don’t forget what she did for them. They don’t forget."
The impact of this program is why Juanita wanted to nominate Margarita to be a 2020 Nominee of the Jefferson Awards, a foundation that celebrates people who are "multiplying good" by serving others in our community.
"Anytime Mrs. Mojica asks you something - you answer," added Juanita. "You don’t say 'No' to volunteering, because you just want to be around her. The energy she projects, you see her commitment, you see the dedication, and you just can’t help but be excited to be part of it."
Margarita knows the value of education, because she and her four siblings are all first generation high school and college graduates. Several, including her, have gone on to get their Masters Degrees.
"I am a first generation born in this country," she explained. "My parents are from Mexico. They’re immigrants from Mexico and I have three sisters and a brother and education was always strongly advocated in our home, but our parents didn’t have the opportunity to attend school in Mexico because of poverty. We knew we wanted to do well, but we struggled because we didn’t have the help at home that we needed and it was because someone was there to guide us, especially after high school, that we we were able to graduate from college."
It's why Margarita is so passionate about helping students - one by one - and advocating for them so they can have strong educations and become skilled members of our community:
"It is our community, it is our future and so it’s a win-win," she said. "Honestly, it’s a win-win, because these students are our future and I want to live in a thriving community, so why would I not help to further educate and open up a world to our students?"
To see who was nominated in the previous five seasons of the Jefferson Awards on WQAD News 8, click here.