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CPS teacher who died of COVID-19 gets honorary street outside school: ‘Her students were her kids’

CPS elementary school teacher Olga Quiroga, who died a year ago from COVID-19, was remembered Thursday at a ceremony unveiling new street signs honoring her outside Funston Elementary School.

Family of Olga L. Quiroga holding the honorary street sign, her daughters Giovanna Quiroga (left), Genesis Quiroga (right), and the late teacher’s husband, Juan G. Quiroga.
The daughters and husband of Olga L. Quiroga — Giovanna (from left), Juan and Genesis Quiroga — were at Funston Elementary School for the unveiling of street signs honoring the 30-year veteran CPS teacher, who died last year of COVID-19.
Brian Rich/Sun-Times

CPS teacher Olga Quiroga will always be remembered for her dedication to her students.

But to Quiroga, who helped Latino students learn English and thrive, they were more than just students.

“She always said that her students were her kids,” the teacher’s daughter, Giovanna Quiroga, said Thursday, recalling how family dinners were sometimes interrupted by calls from students seeking help. “As a daughter, sometimes I’d be like, ‘Those are not your kids, I’m your kid!’”

Family, students and teachers gathered Thursday outside Funston Elementary School, where Quiroga last taught, working with third and fifth grade students.

A portion of Central Park Avenue, from Armitage to Dickens avenues, received an honorary street designation: “Olga L. Quiroga Way.”

Olga Quiroga “really had a gift and a drive to reach all the kids that thought they didn’t have a place,” said Lois LaGalle, a former coworker. “They believed her when she said, ‘You’re important and you’re worthy and you can do it.’
Olga Quiroga “really had a gift and a drive to reach all the kids that thought they didn’t have a place,” said Lois LaGalle, a former coworker. “They believed her when she said, ‘You’re important and you’re worthy and you can do it.’
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Quiroga saw herself as someone who could make a difference in the Latino community, friends and family said. She would give out her personal phone number to students and parents, and tell them to call her anytime.

“She turned a lot of lives around,” said Lois LaGalle, a retired CPS teacher who taught alongside Quiroga for over a decade.

Quiroga passed away in October 2020 from COVID-19, one day after her 58th birthday. She worked as a CPS teacher for more than 30 years, and was among the first CPS teachers known to have died from the disease.

Students, teachers and friends shouted “¡Olga Vive!” as the new sign was unveiled.

“She really had a gift and a drive to reach all the kids that thought they didn’t have a place,” LaGalle said. “They believed her when she said, ‘You’re important and you’re worthy and you can do it.’”

Olga Quiroga and her husband, Juan, moved to the United States from Tamaulipas, Mexico, in 1985. She cleaned houses for $50 per week while attending night school earning her GED, then graduating from Chicago State University.

Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) presented an honorary street sign to the family of Olga Quiroga on Thursday
Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) presented an honorary street sign to the family of Olga Quiroga on Thursday
Brian Rich/Sun-Times

“She wanted her children — her students — to know that anything is possible as long as you put your mind to it,” said Genesis Quiroga, Olga’s daughter.

“She was willing to put herself in front of these students and let them know, ‘This is my story. I want to help build your own story.’”

One of Quiroga’s students, Derriet, a Funston eighth grader, recalled Thursday how Quiroga was more than a teacher to her.

Once, she said, there was an awards ceremony for high-achieving students, and parents were invited. When Derriet learned her mother couldn’t attend, Quiroga comforted her.

“She told me don’t worry,” a teary Derriet said, “and that for that day, she was going to be my mom, and I was going to be her daughter.”

Family pulling the string to reveal the honorary street sign for Funston Elementary teacher Olga L. Quiroga. | Brian Rich/ Sun-Times
Along with along with Quiroga’s family and students, Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) pulled off the cover to unveil the new street sign on Thursday.
Brian Rich/Sun-Times