Sofia Molina has returned to the site where she was once a kindergarten student at then-Kingsford Elementary to teach kindergarten at what is now Willow Oak School in Mulberry.
Molina received a Fancelli Family Future Leaderships Scholarship in fifth grade through the Polk State College Foundation and graduated salutatorian in 2020 from Summerlin Academy, where she participated in the Future Educators Academy through Bartow High School while also completing dual enrollment courses at Polk State.
“In high school, I was able to tour Polk State and work with a kindergarten teacher at Floral Avenue Elementary,” she shared. “What caught my attention was the students’ willingness to learn. I wanted to be a part of that.”
Molina’s parents emigrated from Mexico, and she is not only the first generation in her family to graduate from college, but also from high school. She achieved her Polk State Associate in Arts degree in December 2020 and enrolled in the College’s Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education Program. She also began working as a paraeducator at Mulberry High School and joined Polk State’s chapter of Florida Future Educators of America, which she ultimately served as president.
“My parents drilled the importance of education into me,” she said, “and my middle school teacher instilled in me the confidence to succeed; he’s the one who hired me to come back to Mulberry High School as a paraeducator.”
Molina expressed gratitude to her family and the educators who have supported her throughout her journey. Enrolling in the baccalaureate program at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Molina shared that her professors went above and beyond to provide the instruction and support students needed to be successful.
“I’m grateful for all the opportunities through Polk State College and Polk County Public Schools. I look forward to giving back to my students and the community.”
“The professors at Polk State are really invested in you,” she said. “They taught me everything I needed to know, but beyond that, they genuinely cared about us. As a new teacher, I know that I can still go to them for help, just like they have been there for me from start to finish of this program.”
The baccalaureate program is completed with an internship in Polk County Public Schools. Molina returned to the site of her former elementary school to intern and was hired at Willow Oak School prior to her graduation in December.
“She was an exemplary intern this fall, and as we gained a teaching unit, I knew I had to jump on the chance to get her on staff,” Principal Michelle Townley said. “Her instructional delivery skills, rapport with students, and genuine care and concern simply amazed us all. She is a shining example of what is right with Polk County Public Schools.”
Coincidentally, Townley was assistant principal when Molina attended school there.
“It has all happened so fast and has come full circle,” Molina said. “I’m grateful for all the opportunities through Polk State College and Polk County Public Schools. I look forward to giving back to my students and the community.”