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Education Gave Vet a Fighting Chance

Maggie Woods with Weaver

May 2016


They all will be there on Saturday.

The mother who assured Melissa Weaver and her twin sister, Lisa, that an education was the way to see the world that lay beyond tiny La Pryor, Texas.

That twin sister — who, like Melissa, entered grade school unable to speak English — also will be there.

There, too, will be her father and a younger sister who followed Melissa into the military. Every member of the Pargas family with the exception of an older brother will be on hand to see her collect a St. Ambrose Master of Education in Teaching degree as she continues to honor the passion for education instilled in her by her mother and shaped along the way by the many teachers who went above and beyond.

A member of the United States Marine Corps from 1999-2003, Weaver is among 21 military veterans who are candidates for degrees at Spring Commencement ceremonies at 1 p.m. on Saturday, May 14, at the i Wireless Center in Moline, Ill. She is one of 12 veterans who will earn a graduate degree.

For Weaver, the military was a means to an education, a ticket to see the world outside of La Pryor, a town of 1,400 people 90 minutes south of San Antonio and 45 minutes from the Mexican border.

"I really loved my little town," Weaver said of La Pryor. Still, life wasn't easy growing up in the largely Hispanic community where 41 percent of the population, and 48 percent of children 18 and under, live under the poverty line, according to 2000 U.S. Census data.

In school, the Weaver twins had to overcome the challenge of learning English as a second language. And Melissa had a second hurdle, dyslexia. Lisa, who now has a teaching degree and is pursuing another in cardiovascular diagnostics, helped her sister with the reading. Patient teachers helped both twins with the language challenges. And their mother encouraged the girls with love of both tender and tough variety.

"She always told us an education was the one thing no one could take from us," Weaver recalled. "She inspired us to do good in school."

From an uncle who served in the military, Weaver learned about the tuition benefits within the G.I. Bill. She made up her mind at an early age to earn that benefit and a college degree. "I already knew what I wanted to be — because my teachers were there for me when I needed them most," she said.

Weaver gained her undergraduate teaching degree at Cornell (Iowa) College after moving to her husband, Todd's, native Iowa. She has taught Spanish at Lisbon (Iowa) High School while pursuing her master's at SAU. She enrolled in 2013 while expecting and even managed to keep up despite being restricted to bed rest in the final weeks of her pregnancy, said Maggie Woods, director of the MEDT program.

Weaver credited her husband for looking after matters at home and setting aside his small business so she could teach and continue her career. "I really could not have gotten my degree without my husband's support," she said. 

Weaver plans to continue teaching Spanish and hopes to help students with struggles of their own. Woods said she is a natural at that. "I believe that because of all she has been through, she brings a sense of acceptance for all kids," Woods said. "She understands those who have not had an easy path in life. Students use her as a 'sounding board' when they have issues in life."

Said Weaver, who hopes to enlist her master's to mentor other language teachers, "My upbringing definitely gave me a way to connect to students who need someone."

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