Olga Quiroga came down with cold-like symptoms last month after making a series of trips to Funston Elementary that included a back-to-school event, where the first-grade bilingual teacher met her students’ parents and handed out supplies for the upcoming academic year, her daughters said.
Despite suffering from a heavy cough and debilitating fatigue, Quiroga, a 30-year veteran at Chicago Public Schools, continued to teach her students virtually.
One week later, however, Quiroga’s condition took a turn for the worse. She called in sick to work and had her daughter take her to the emergency room. She was so weak she could barely walk 30 feet from the car to a wheelchair, her daughter, Giovanna Quiroga, said.
“The nurses literally just snatched her away from me,” Giovanna recalled. “And ever since Sept. 11, she was in the intensive care unit. She just never came home.”
After a three-week battle with COVID-19, Olga Quiroga, a first-grade teacher who lived in Garfield Ridge, died Thursday — just one day after her 58th birthday.
A series of tribute posts on social media painted Quiroga to be a selfless woman whom her colleagues and students adored. Her three daughters described their mother as a “fighter” and a nurturing woman who created change in and out of the classroom.
“My mother treated everyone she came across with so much kindness and compassion,” her youngest daughter, Genesis Quiroga, said. “I don’t believe anyone left the room without remembering who Olga was.”
Olga Quiroga made it a point to work at schools in lower-income neighborhoods, where she said she was needed the most.
“My mom [would tell us] ... ‘Those are the families that appreciate a good education ... If I’m going to make a change,’ that’s where she wanted to start,” Giovanna said.
Quiroga would give out her personal phone number to her students’ parents and tell them she was always available to them.
“She loved every single one of her students and their families as if they were her own,” Giovanna said. “We would be home and she would be getting phone calls regarding one of her students. There were no limits really.”
Olga Quiroga also loved to dance.
It didn’t matter what type of music was playing — Spanish or English — the beat would consume her as she swayed side to side.
Most recently, Quiroga took a liking to learning trendy TikTok dances with her 14-year-old granddaughter.
Her favorite was “Out West” by Travis Scott. After her granddaughter taught her the routine in the kitchen of her oldest daughter’s Texas home, Quiroga flew back to Chicago and eagerly showed Genesis.
“My mom was hilarious,” Giovanna said while reminiscing about the way her mother would spontaneously break out in dance. “People know my mom as this professional, educated, proper woman, but she was hilarious. She was a goofball.”
Quiroga taught her daughters to appreciate the small things in life. She also taught them to be strong, independent women — which she had exemplified throughout her entire life.
Olga Quiroga and her husband, Juan, moved to the United State from Tamaulipas, Mexico, in 1985, her daughters said. She didn’t know any English and found work cleaning houses for $50 per week as she attended school at night. After earning her bachelor’s degree in education from Chicago State University, she was hired by Chicago Public Schools to be a reading instruction assistant in 1991. From then on, teaching became her life passion.
“She overcame moving to this country, starting from nothing, and just taught us that that’s what we should strive for no matter what,” Giovanna said. “[Any obstacle] just push past it and achieve that goal because it is achievable because she did it.”
Quiroga’s three daughters don’t want their mother’s death to be in vain. They said they hope Chicago Public Schools officials realize they’re not prepared for in-person learning yet.
“These schools are not properly equipped, they’re not ready,” Giovanna said. “My mom, it took one time to be in that building to contract it. If her story and her tragedy can save hundreds and thousands of students and teachers, then so be it because it’s not right.
“This virus is very real and ... I understand CPS wants to open, but we’re not at that point yet because look what happened,” she continued. “According to them, they’re safe, they’re ready, and clearly they’re not.”
CPS spokeswoman Emily Bolton said the Funston community has been told of Olga Quiroga’s death and the school will provide support for students beginning Monday. She also said the district’s contact tracing found one direct contact with Quiroga at the school, and that person was quarantined. No other cases have been reported at Funston, Bolton said.
Quiroga is survived by her husband, Juan; in addition to Giovanna and Genesis, another daughter, Gladys; and her four grandchildren, Ciara, Layla, Liliana and Jaylen.
Visitation will be held from 12 to 4 p.m. Saturday at Blake-Lamb Funeral Home in Oak Lawn. A memorial service will follow, her family said.