Kindergarten Crew Teacher
Meet Ms Gina!
As soon as my children heard I had the pleasure of interviewing Ms. Gina for this week’s staff spotlight they both (one who had Ms. Gina as a teacher and one who did not) started shouting out “Be sure to write about how much we love Ms. Gina! Tell the community how special Ms. Gina is!” I certainly agree with their enthusiasm about how special Ms. Gina is to our Renaissance community and how fortunate we are to have such a passionate visionary teaching our kiddos!
A passion of Gina’s has always been working with students of all abilities and teaching important lessons of inclusiveness and compassion to our students by partnering our students with students with disabilities at other school locations. Gina grew up in the southwest suburbs of Chicago, Illinois, the youngest of four children, one older brother and two older sisters. Gina’s oldest sister, Jackie, has been the driving force for Gina’s passion and so many students’ lives have been positively impacted because of it. “My sister, Jackie, was born typical and was found in a coma in her crib at six months old. She was airlifted to the hospital where they discovered a brain bleed and had to remove over half of her brain. She died on the operating table and was revived. My mom was told that she would never be able to function like the rest of us or to even walk or talk. She is blind, has cerebral palsy, and is paralyzed on the left side of her body. Luckily, though, my mom is stubborn! My sister can walk and talk and though she has the mentality of a seven year old some days you wouldn’t know it, and it feels like you’re talking with another adult.” Gina’s parents divorced during her second grade year and she ended up living with her mom and two older sisters. It was just an expectation that they all would take care of one another. Even though her upbringing was different because of the heavier responsibilities she had, there was never any resentment; Gina knew that taking care of family was just something that had to be done. “Growing up with someone with a disability was just my norm. My life did seem different than others’ because I knew I had to help with my sister. The biggest thing I noticed growing up with a sister with a disability was the stares that we’d get. While some people showed kindness towards us, some people were beyond rude. I learned quickly how not to lose my mind on people when they were rude.” Gina saw her mom work hard for the family as a waitress and a seamstress and recognized the many talents that her mom had. “My mom was like superwoman! She was a very well-rounded person, just amazing in so many ways!”
From a young age Gina not only helped take care of her sister at home, but she sought out opportunities to work with other students with special needs in her school. As a senior in high school Gina had to decide between joining the Air Force and becoming a statistician or becoming a special education teacher. We are so glad that she chose to become a teacher! Gina spent a successful freshman year at a college in Michigan but came back to graduate from the University of Illinois-Champaign that had one of the top five special education programs in the nation. She spent one year back home as a hospice worker but decided to make the move out to Colorado to be closer to her dad who had suffered a heart attack and stroke her senior year of college (dad is doing great!)
“My first job out here in Douglas County was teaching students with significant needs, grades kindergarten through third grade, at Pine Lane Elementary with former Renaissance teachers. I taught students how to try new foods, use the bathroom, use communication devices, along with seizure monitoring for students, using simple social skills, and reading comprehension.” Gina spent two years at Pine Lane before moving to Roxborough Intermediate school where she spent another two years teaching similar life skills to students in third to sixth grade. There she was the special education team lead. It was in that position that Gina saw a system that needed to be shaken up, but she felt like the way to make the changes she so desperately wanted to see she would need to move into an administrative role. Gina went back to school to attain her Master’s in Administration. Eventually, Gina knew that in order to eventually secure an administrative role she would also need to have the experience as a general ed teacher. It was this forward, down-the-road thinking (and her friend and Renaissance teacher, Kim Beal) that eventually brought Gina to Renaissance to dive into the role of a general ed teacher.
While Gina loves our school community in so many ways, it’s the relationships with our students that has become her favorite part of teaching at Renaissance. “I like meeting their personalities! A lot of my background in special education was behavior-oriented and putting together behavior plans. So many of my students were non-verbal and this was a huge puzzle. Here my students talk so much! Hearing their thought processes and seeing their personalities shine is certainly the most interesting part for me!”
Outside of the school day Gina loves spending time with her “girls,” her dogs Zoe and Brinley! This year during a four day weekend Gina packed up the dogs and took a trip to the Grand Canyon. There she rented an RV on an old airstrip that was decked out in gypsy garb and just enjoyed the experience. “I love hanging out with my dogs and going wherever with them. Zoe was my “love-at-first-sight” dog when she was the last puppy remaining at an adoption event. I had been looking for weeks and as soon as our eyes met I knew that she was the one! Brinley is my “meant-to-be” dog. I adopted Brinley as a puppy and trained her to be a certified service dog who used to love coming to work with me in my special education classrooms.”
It is obvious how much passion and enthusiasm Gina has for our children… whether that’s in a general education classroom, a special education classroom, or somewhere in the middle with students who need additional support. Our entire Renaissance community is better because of Ms. Gina being a part of it and we can’t wait to see the positive impact the homebase program brings to our school next year!