Humans of CASE: Gina Duarte-Romero

Inspired by Humans of New York, where Brandon Stanton shares short stories of hundreds of New Yorkers, we went on a quest to find students, alumni, faculty and staff within the CASE community who make us see the world in a different light. This is one in a series we’ve titled, Humans of CASE.

Someone once pulled a handgun on Gina Duarte-Romero in her inner-city school. It happened early in her teaching career. While most people would turn to a new profession, this FIU alumna eventually went on to own two of her own schools.

Duarte-Romero did take a hiatus from the classroom. She worked at the family’s air conditioning business, where she honed her business and finance skills.

Still, her love for education remained top of mind for Duarte-Romero. It led her to purchase the Kiddie Country Club School in 1999. Wanting her reach to go farther, she sold the daycare and bought the Biltmore School in West Miami, which accepts children 12 months old to 14 years old.

Running a larger school with a mix of grade levels sparked Duarte-Romero’s journey to enhancing education. She adopted the Reggio Emilia philosophy for preschool and primary children, which promotes education through methods such as exploration, encouragement and problem solving.

Duarte-Romero then became one of the first private school owners to adopt the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme – a foundation that offers programs to students to help develop specific skills to learn and work in a global world.

Through her time as an educator and different professional development initiatives, Duarte-Romero met Angela Salmon, a professor of Early Childhood Education in FIU’s Department of Teaching and Learning.

Teachers at Project Zero at Harvard University

Salmon encouraged Duarte-Romero to pursue a master’s degree and introduced her to Project Zero Classroom through Harvard University – a place for educators around the world to connect and discover research-based practices that promote critical thinking, curiosity and creativity.

Duarte-Romero graduated from FIU with a Master of Science in Early Childhood Education in 2008 and was offered an adjunct lecturer position in the Department of Teaching and Learning where she teaches Family Literacy and the Young Child; Communities, Families and Young Children; and Early Childhood Education Programs.

Today, Duarte-Romero is president-elect of the FIU Alumni Association Board of Directors, where she has championed the newly formed Parent Council.

“I love this group,” said Duarte-Romero, whose daughter is a junior at FIU studying marketing. “It allows me to be more connected as a parent.”

Her duties on the board also include visiting several schools throughout the year as part of an accreditation team. Her visits are eye-opening.

Duarte-Romero recalls visiting a school that opened in the ‘80s and was amazed at the woman who runs its holocaust program. The teacher recites quotes from Holocaust survivors to her class and invites those very same people to her classroom.

“It’s very powerful,” Duarte-Romero said. “I always walk away with something.”

Since 2016 Duarte-Romero has hosted a “Dining with 12 Panthers” event at the Biltmore School during Panther Alumni Week. This professional development opportunity invites students to meet and network with alumni from a variety of career backgrounds.

Today, the Biltmore School continues to grow. Whether it’s through her involvement with FIU or inside her own school, Duarte-Romero is leaving a mark.