The Grade Blog

Monday, Jul 14 2014 07:09 PM

Longtime elementary school teacher Gina Boles dies

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    Gina Boles

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    Contributed photo Teacher Gina Boles and student Alana Klopstein on the last day of school in May 2009.

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    Teacher Gina Boles

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BY LAUREN FOREMAN Californian staff writer lforeman@bakersfield.com

Gina Boles, a longtime teacher at Endeavour Elementary School, was the kind of educator administrators wanted instructing their children.

Deanna Clarke, a former Endeavour principal, even joked she considered moving Boles to a higher grade each year to ensure she taught Clarke's son throughout elementary school.

"She just made it engaging and fun for all the kids," Clarke said. "They loved her."

Boles, 50, died July 10 at Cedar Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles from pulmonary fibrosis -- a disease in which lung tissue becomes scarred.

"The whole Fruitvale community -- staff, parents, kids -- they're just in a state of shock," said Mary Westendorf, superintendent of Fruitvale School District.

Westendorf was part of an interview panel that hired Boles 17 years ago in the Fruitvale School District.

"You could just tell from the first moment you met her how much she loved her students," Westendorf said. "She would put her heart and soul into teaching.

"She was amazing."

Rhonda Nelson, Boles' sister, said the funeral would be next week.

The Endeavour school community will conduct its own commemorative event.

"We can't let someone of her quality as an educator, and what she meant to all of us, go unrecognized," Westendorf said.

Matt Diggle, principal of Endeavour Elementary, said he knew Boles for 16 years as a colleague.

He taught both of her daughters, Jessica and Katie; and Boles, in turn, taught two of his three children.

"She is just one of those one-of-a-kind people," he said.

Boles would dress up in wigs, sing made-up refrains about lasagna and host puppet weather forecasts to get her students excited about learning.

Kimberly Jensen, a student in her fifth-grade class in 2013-14, said her favorite silly song Mrs. Boles led was called "Chicken Lips And Lizard Hips."

"Chicken lips and lizard hips and alligator eyes, monkey legs and lizard eggs and salamander thighs," Kimberly sang.

She called Boles "the nicest person you could ever have as a teacher."

Kimberly will miss being able to see her smile and sing the most.

"She had a beautiful voice," the 11-year-old said.

Each day she would begin her class with a song, dance or joke. Administrators remember the sound of piano and singing as they walked pass her classroom door.

Her popularity was such that nearly a dozen parents already had requested their children be placed in her class next year.

"I don't think I've ever had a parent approach me with a negative thing about her," he said. "That just never happens."

Boles helped piece together applications that helped Endeavour earn inclusion on the California Department of Education's list of California Distinguished Schools in 1997, 2002 and 2006.

She has, since Endeavour's opening in 1995, composed musicals and wrote performance pieces for the school, Clarke said.

Clarke served as Boles' principal for nearly two decades and watched her son, now 19 years old, complete first and second grade under Boles.

"He absolutely loves her," Clarke said.

She remembers gingerbread houses they created, gardening projects and a farm field trip by train. She gave them bandanas and cowboy hats, Clarke said.

"Once a Boles' Bear, always a Boles' Bear," she said, reciting her son's class motto.

Boles named each class and incorporated elements of the names in her lessons.

Kimberly's class name was the "brainiacs," so many lessons began with Boles turning on the light in a plastic model of a brain.

"She would always tell them that the brainiacs are ready to learn," Clarke said.

Patty Jensen, Kimberly's mother, said her family is sad "for all the students who would never be able to be in her class."

A CaringBridge web page the Boles family created about Gina in June had attracted 7,095 visits by Monday afternoon.

In May, Boles had noticed she started getting winded more frequently. But she attributed the change to poor air quality in Bakersfield.

Diggle said she did not go to the doctor's office until later that month.

On May 23 she received a bronchoscopy, a procedure that allows doctors to look inside the lungs' airways, according to the family's CaringBridge page.

A doctor told her she had lost about 50 percent of her lung capacity, Diggle said.

Boles was relocated to the intensive care unit May 25. A little more than a month later, she was airlifted July 1to Cedar Sinai, where doctors determined Boles was not a fit for transplant surgery.

On July 6 she and her husband of 30 years -- Mike Boles -- held hands and watched the 2014 Wimbledon tennis finals from a hospital bed.

Boles' family declined comment Monday.

Diggle said Boles was a person whose enthusiasm "just kind of shined through."

She could engage the most difficult child because she cared about every child she taught.

"Everyone's better for having known her," he said.

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