Connecting with the kids

For Gina Nuñez, passion for teaching is in her blood. Her father, two brothers, sister and great-grandmother all chose careers in education.

This is her 19th year of teaching and her sixth year at Xavier College Preparatory. She currently teaches three levels of freshman world history: college prep, honors and advanced placement.

“I am a hard teacher,” said Nuñez. “My expectations are really high and the girls know that from day one. But at the same time, I like to build a rapport with the students…But the point isn’t to make the students like me, it is to make them want to learn history.”

According to senior student, Hannah Cooper and freshman student, Nika Volfson, the students do like her. They both nominated Nuñez for the Arcadia News Teachers We Love Award.

“Miss Nuñez is a very popular teacher. She is definitely a favorite on campus,” Cooper shared.

Volfson explained, “I think Miss Nuñez’s general disposition can lift anybody’s mood and leave a positive impact for the rest of that day. Just the way she interacts with her students makes them leave happier and knowing they have learned many new things.”

Cooper said that Miss Nuñez is willing to listen to and debate with students. She added, “I learned a lot from her class, but I think I learned more from her in a sense of everyday application, like how to formulate effective arguments.”

Miss Nuñez recalled that because she came from a family of teachers, she didn’t want to follow the family tradition and become a teacher. She remembered her father’s response when she told him she changed her mind: “He laughed and said, ‘Yea’ I kinda’ figured you would.’”

“I’m 51. I went to school late, Nuñez said. “I was going to travel the world and [serve] women’s issues in low income, poverty-stricken areas. But then I got the teaching bug.”

While attending Northern Arizona University, a friend asked her to do some volunteer work with middle school and high school students. Her friend was impressed by the rapport she built with the students in a short period of time and remarked about it.

“I think being honest and open with [students] helps them feel comfortable and we build this great rapport,” said Nuñez. “Every day there is something new I learn from my students. And every day I give them something that they can take with them.”

“She is a great teacher, but she is a really wonderful person. That’s ultimately why I nominated her,” Cooper said.

Nuñez’s compassionate nature is evidenced by her decision to adopt her daughter. It was early in her teaching career, while working at a West Valley middle school, that she watched the movie Blindside and was inspired to adopt one of her first year students.

When Nuñez was asked about her daughter, Elizabeth, she said, “[Elizabeth] came from a really bad home. I knew that she was a good kid. Everyone else thought she was a bad kid…I took her out of a bad place and put her in a better place. My family opened their arms to her.” Elizabeth is now 31 and pursuing a Ph.D. in education from California State University, Long Beach.

“I have such a passion for teaching, I can’t not be in the classroom,” said Nuñez. “It’s who I am and what I do. I love it.”