Lucy Lemay Cellucci

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All Hail The Queen

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It’s hard to believe that the queen will be taking leave of her throne in the hallowed halls of Widdifield Secondary, but as of June 2015, that’s exactly what will happen.

Gina Lynn Armstrong Aro first walked through the doors of Widdifield Secondary in 1992. Armed with a quick wit, a great passion for living life to its fullest and an extreme fascination with the royal family, she taught English and Drama. She also started the school’s first dance program with two classes in her first year. Gina introduced the art of dance into Widdifield’s curriculum, paving the way for the thriving dance program that now exists. During her tenure at WSS, Gina was also involved in coaching cheerleading, downhill skiing, La Troupe Dance, Sears Drama Festival, East-West hockey tournament, Armed Forces Day, and served as a parent council representative. In 2006 she shifted her focus from teaching to counseling and moved her talents over to student services in the guidance department, where she has counseled a number of students and their families, helping them to achieve their goals.

Gina took her first steps into the world of dance at the age of five with Barbara Treleavan at the bottom of St. Brice’s Church Hall. Her lofty stature rewarded her with her first solo, which sadly was never performed due to an untimely case of the mumps.ballerina gina

 

At the age of twelve, she started assisting her teachers with the pre-school classes. She started teaching for Mrs. Treleavan in her early teens, and upon completion of her grade thirteen, she was accepted at the University of Toronto for Medical Sciences. Though she would have made an incredible doctor, Gina wisely followed her passion and persued a degree in Dance at Ryerson University’s prestigious dance program. Her commitment and endurance saw her through to her graduation in 1976, when she was one of fourteen students (a group that originally started out at forty-four) who received their degree in Dance Arts. From there, Gina launched her “Canadian Teaching Tour,” which saw her commence her tutelage in Burlington for the School of Dance, entering students for their R.A.D. (Royal Academy of Dance) exams. From there, in 1978 she moved to Winnipeg, where her son, Jonathan, was born. While juggling the responsibilities of new motherhood, she taught for the Royal Dance Academy and Royal Winnipeg Summer School. In 1980 she moved to Leduc, Alberta, welcoming her daughter, Marissa, and opened the Armstrong-Aro School of Dance. In 1985 she moved to Ottawa and taught dance at Carleton University. Always up for adventure and expanding her horizons, Gina moved back to North Bay in 1987 and attended Nipissing University for an English History degree and Bachelor of Education. From there, this well-travelled and seasoned multitasker was hired by the Nipissing Board of Education, where she functioned for the first two years as an itinerant teacher, teaching drama for over 1100 grades. This eventually led to a more permanent teaching position, where hundreds of students, myself included, have benefited from her wisdom, guidance and passion.

            I remember, as a student coming into her class for the first time, how I was struck by her extroverted personality. I was fascinated by this elegant and creative enigma who was always perplexed as to the whereabouts of her keys. Within a short time I realized I was about to become part of something special that would alter the trajectory of my life. There was an energy in that bright, mirrored room that was palpable upon entering. I can vividly recall the determination I felt to work hard as the studio doors clanked shut behind me. The sound of the acoustics, Gina’s flower-patterned teaching skirt, the leathery smell of new ballet slippers, all would become the foundation of the road that I would later travel, cementing my passion for this art form and making dance education my own life’s ambition.

But as much as I will always be indebted to Gina for introducing me to dance, the most memorable parts of her classes were things that had nothing whatsoever to do with dancing. This clever and inspiring teacher not only taught lessons on how to dance, but she also imparted to her students valuable lessons on how to live authentically. She encouraged us to take risks and to speak our minds. She got us excited about pushing our limits. She held us to the standards of respecting ourselves and each other. Her office door was always open to us, whether we wanted to discuss pirouette technique, failing math grades, troubles at home or romantic disappointments. Little by little, perhaps without her even realizing it, her consistent, stabilizing presence in the classroom gradually chipped away at the rough, flinty edges of our adolescent development, smoothing the contours and helping shape us into the adults we are today.  To be a teacher not only puts one in a position of touching lives, but it also results in being touched by many lives in return — something I’ve become keenly aware of in my two decades of teaching.

And while I can hardly imagine our beloved school without her presence, I am excited for this next chapter in her life to unfold and see how she will reinvent herself — florist, jeweller, sommelier — anything is possible! With more time to pursue retreats with her family to the cottage at the French River, time with her grandchildren, downhill skiing and upcoming trips planned to Thailand, Denmark, Sweden, Portugal and Spain, Gina will no doubt continue to broaden her horizons by trying new things, meeting new people and spreading the warmth and magic of the most precious thing she has to offer the world: herself.

Good luck, Your Majesty. It has, and continues to be, an honour. Wishing you all the best in your new life.

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