“We’re extremely fortunate to find someone like Gina,” says Idyllwild Arts Academy Head of School Marianne Kent-Stoll. “Someone of that caliber in math and science who’s happy to work with arts students to raise them to a higher level is unusual.”
It’s good that Kent-Stoll is willing to say it, since Gina Cheney seems disinclined to advertise the high caliber of her skills in mathematics and physics. The modesty of the Academy’s new calculus and physics teacher inclines her, instead, to admit that “I never liked school until my junior year in high school.”
She had always enjoyed reading and learning at home. Yet doing those things at school felt different.
“Everything suddenly changed in my junior year, though. I absolutely loved chemistry.”
For a while, her new attitude toward school made the demanding educational regimen needed to become a doctor seem plausible.
“But I knew I wanted to have children. Doing that and being a doctor didn’t sound anywhere near as good as having children and being a teacher.”
It was a good call: today, she has two children as well as her full-time teaching job at the Academy. Her path to get here has involved earning a B.A. in Mathematics from California State University, San Bernardino, in 2013, then her M.A. in Mathematics from CSU, San Bernardino, in 2016, and, subsequently, part-time teaching at San Bernardino Valley College and Victor Valley College.
Happy to Work with Arts Students
Gina’s path to Idyllwild Arts has also involved a lot of driving to get to one college or another. Colleges are spread far apart in San Bernardino County and adjacent Riverside County. The counties are relatively rural—by Southern California standards—and their combined area exceeds the areas of ten U.S. states.
In fact, she would still be driving long distances, if not for the coronavirus pandemic.
“I live in Lucerne Valley, close to Victorville. That was okay when I was teaching at Victor Valley College. But from Lucerne Valley to Idyllwild it’s at least a two-hour drive.”
What will she do once COVID-19 has receded and Idyllwild Arts can go back to in-person instruction?
“My husband and I are looking for a place to rent in Idyllwild. We’re shooting to be moved in by January.”
In the meantime, “Online teaching is working out all right, even though there was a big learning curve back in the spring. At the colleges where I was teaching, we had about a week to figure out how to switch everything from in-person to online.”
This year she is teaching Calculus, Pre-Calculus, and Physics. She confirms Kent-Stoll’s suggestion that she is happy to work with arts students.
“They seem to be having more fun and to be more motivated than my older community college students. They participate well and they ask interesting questions.”
If she were less modest, she might point out that good teachers tend to elicit class participation and interesting questions.
Idyllwild Arts Academy is, indeed, fortunate to have Gina.