Monthly Mentor

Natalie C. Jones (February)
Each month, a different member is the guest writer for the NAEA Monthly Mentor Blog. Natalie C. Jones is an artist, small business owner, and the director of education at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture. She has 10 years of experience working as an art teacher and teaching artist throughout the east coast and the Midwest. Click "GO" to read her full bio.



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Friday 01.29.10

“ART with a PURPOSE”…Thank You!

It has been my honor and privilege to be your Monthly Mentor and begin 2010 with my “ART with a PURPOSE” thoughts!  I hope I have inspired you to springboard off of some of these ideas and teach your students how they can change the world through their art.  I hope you have enjoyed the thoughts of your colleagues and I look forward to seeing you all at the NAEA convention and continuing our discussions!  You all inspire me to be a better person and a better art educator daily!    Thank You!

Thank you so much to Linda Scott for this wonderful opportunity! 

Stay in touch…please visit my e-portfolio, e-mail me or visit me at school anytime!  My door is always open, I know that when we work together the ultimate winners are our students, the REASON we should all get up every day with a smile on our faces and teach ART with a PURPOSE! 

Be Blessed and TGIT!

Debi West, Ed.S, NBCT
North Gwinnett High School
Suwanee, GA
GAEA Past President (2001-2007)

Wednesday 01.27.10

“ART with a PURPOSE”… 2010 Reasons to … ART!

So, have we done it?  Have we collectively thought of 2010 reasons WHY we create art; WHY we have our student’s create art; WHY we advocate for arts education for all learners and WHY art must be taught as more than another pretty picture hanging on the wall?  As I began this January blog it was my hope that we all begin thinking deeply about “ART with a PURPOSE”!  From Empty Bowls, to Relay for Life Art Auctions, to Community Art Exhibits, to Mini Art Exhibits, to National Art Honor Society Service Learning Project, to the International Memory Project, to WHY it is imperative that we continue to advocate for an arts education for EVERY child!  Together, we can truly teach our children to make a difference in this world!!

My challenge to you, let’s list at least 2010 reasons why we create, study, advocate, and teach ART!

I’ll give you a few to get started: 
Express ourselves; document our world; teach empathy; see the world differently; paint; to draw what we see; to empower; to give students the right to create; to change the world; to collage; because ART makes you smART; to be creative…
Now, Go…

PS:  Here are a few of my favorite quotes that I use daily:
“Good is the enemy of GREAT!” - Jim Collins
“Comparison is the thief of JOY!” -Dwight Edwards
“TGIT…Thank God It’s TODAY!”    -Neila Conor
“We Are All Living ART!” -Maya Angelou

I look forward to seeing your comments…and I’d love to hear some of your favorite quotes!

Debi West, Ed.S, NBCT
North Gwinnett High School
Suwanee, GA
GAEA Past President (2001-2007)

Monday 01.25.10

“ART with a PURPOSE”…Document Your Doings and Always Use a bit of CPR with Purpose!

I realized my first year of teaching that I needed to document what I was doing, what my students were learning and reflect on this if I hoped to grow as an educator.  So that first year, I made a scrapbook.  I put photos of students working, mini lesson plans, little notes written from colleagues and students, pictures of my installations and exhibits, etc…  The scrapbook was a work of art in and of itself.  I remember thinking, WOW, I’m pretty good at this teaching thing.  The funny thing is, I now look back at that 1st year scrapbook and think, WOW, did I have a lot to learn!  I have continued to reflect on my teaching successes and my “not-so-successful” teaching moments.  I continue to tweak and rework my lessons and I listen closely to my students as they create to see what inspires them, what engages them and how to keep their creative light shining!

As an elementary art teacher I found that creating yearlong, theme-based curricula worked really well for me.  I could plan my lessons for grades K-5 so that every student understood the ‘why’s’ for creating the art and the best part, the end of the year student art show came together because the curriculum was completely themed!  After documenting 10 years of newly created curricula and presenting these both regionally and nationally, I began to think that perhaps I should share these with a broader audience.  I contacted Arts & Activities magazine and voila, I am now a contributing editor with them!  Each year they publish one of my theme-based curricula both in their magazine and on line (  When I document my “doings” I keep my teaching in line and it continues to help me become a better, stronger, smARTer teacher.  I continue to keep a journal type of scrapbook yearly and I even have my student teachers keep one during their experience to use as they go back and reflect on what they have done.  This way we can all make sure that we are always teaching “ART with a PURPOSE”!

I also remind my colleagues and my students that we should all use a little “CPR” in everything we do!  I coined this a few years ago when I was the county teacher of the year.  With that honor, I had a new responsibility to go and speak to many groups through out the county and the state.  I knew the Kiwanis Club members were wondering what in the world an elementary visual art teacher could say at their luncheon that could have an type of impact…thus “CPR” emerged! 
If we are COMMITED, PASSIONATE and REFLECTIVE (CPR) in every thing we do, we will all have a PURPOSE!  With commitment, passion and the ability to reflect, we will be able to resuscitate a love of life into everything we do!  It has worked for me!  It works for the thousands of students I have had the honor of teaching over the past 17 years and I still hear from people who have heard my CPR speech and use it in their lives.  I hope you will too!

So go and “document your doings”, teach “ART with a PURPOSE” and put a little “CPR” into everything you do…and then make sure you write how it’s working for you on this NAEA blogspot!  I can’t wait to hear from you!

View my presentation: "A Passion for Art...A Love of Children! …unlocking a love of learning through the arts"Powerpoint-icon

Debi West, Ed.S, NBCT
North Gwinnett High School
Suwanee, GA
GAEA Past President (2001-2007)

Friday 01.22.10

“ART with a PURPOSE”…A Great Way to ADVOCATE for Arts Education!

I am currently serving on the NAEA Advocacy Committee and several times a year our committee talks about they “why’s” and the “how’s” of arts advocacy.  Especially arts advocacy that works!  We conduct research in our 4 regions and look at the states, districts, and teachers that are using advocacy to make real change and most importantly, that which secures arts educators in all schools, ensuring that all learners receive a comprehensive visual arts education!  Seriously, isn’t that one of the reasons the NAEA exists…to ensure that art teachers are making a difference! 

As a past Youth Art Month coordinator for the state of Georgia, I know first hand that when teachers involve their communities in the arts, the arts become permanent in those schools.  I know first hand that when we educate our parents, the arts become stronger because our parents are the ultimate decision makers…they are the folks voting in our legislation!  I know that when art teachers are showcasing the talents of their students in their school through exhibitions, as well as in their community and at the state level, the arts stand firm…it is truly up to US to ADVOCATE for arts education and make sure that the powers to be understand that the arts should never be a privilege for a few, but a right for ALL learners, THE END!

I also know that “ART with a PURPOSE” is a perfect way to Advocate for Arts Education!  When the community, parents and students see that art class is about hands-on learning, using critical and creative thinking skills, incorporating problem solving skills, AND teaching about service learning and making a difference in the world…the ARTS REMAIN! 

Youth Art Month (YAM) is a superb platform on which to begin.  If this all seems overwhelming, begin slowly!  Contact your state Youth Art Month coordinator and make your first step as simple as hanging art work in the halls and creating a sign that says “Youth Art Month”!  If your state doesn’t have a Youth Art Month coordinator, contact the NAEA ( or the Council for Art Education ( and they can get you started!  From there your “ART with a PURPOSE” lessons and ideas will grow!

So I have several questions to ask you to think about in this blog:

Are you an art educator making a difference?  Are you an art educator involved with Youth Art Month?  Are you an active participant in your state art education association?  Are you a life long learner, continuing in your own education?  Are you serious about making a difference in the lives of your students?  Are you teaching ART with a PURPOSE?!

View my presentation: ADVOCACY! “Go and Walk the Talk”Powerpoint-icon

Debi West, Ed.S, NBCT
North Gwinnett High School
Suwanee, GA
GAEA Past President (2001-2007)

Wednesday 01.20.10

“Art with a PURPOSE”…Memory Project and Beyond!

The summer before I began teaching at the secondary level, I was on the beach with some friends and they mentioned that they had recently read an article about the international Memory Project.  As they explained it to me, I got very excited about using this as a lesson during my first year with my new “older” students!  I immediately went on line that evening ( to research this and was in contact the next day with Ben Schumaker, the director and founder of this awesome project.  The short version:

“The Memory Project is a unique initiative in which high school or university art students create portraits for children in orphanages around the world.  To do this, the art students receive pictures of children who are waiting for portraits, and then work in their art classrooms to create the portraits.Next, the company coordinates the delivery of the portraits to the children.  The goal of the project is to inspire caring, friendship, and a positive sense of self. The project is directed by the nonprofit organization My Class Cares. “

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The website has a beautiful power point slide show in which U2 sings and it is “goosebump” good!  Every student is engaged and excited to use their creativity and talent to honor a child’s identity and make their life a little bit better!  I think this is one of the most powerful “ART with a PURPOSE” lessons that I teach.  I have done this for the past 3 years.  The first year my students “adopted” 40 children from Honduras, the 2nd year we “adopted” 50 children from Ecuador, and this year we will be adopting again, but we have done something a bit different, springboarding from the original plan.  The cost to participate in this project is $15 a student.  In the past, my students haven’t had a problem raising this money, in fact one student our 1st year went to each of his classes and asked his teacher if he could explain this project to his classmates to generate some excitement and raise some money.  Every teacher gladly allowed him a few minutes to discuss the Memory Project and in 1 day he raised $73!  Amazing!  Again, a project that the whole school can get excited about! 

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We will be doing this in the spring, but last summer I had the awesome opportunity to teach at the Tennessee Arts Academy and I was discussing this amazing project to the teachers in my “class.”  One of the teachers mentioned that she teaches at a special education school and that many of her students are also orphaned, so we decided that it would be fun to do this project not only internationally, but nationally as well.  So right before the Christmas holiday I presented my Draw/Paint students with 35 photographs of Rachel Motta’s students and my students, using whatever media they chose, honored their identity with beautiful holiday portaits of the kids!  We mailed them out and she sent back pictures of her students holding their portraits, the smiles on their faces spoke a thousand words…it was a super holiday gift for both her students and my students as they gave back to the world through their talent! 

This is how we summed it up, to paraphrase from VISA commercials:
Art Supplies= $45
Art Class Time= 5 days
Cost to send the art to Tennessee= $22
Children’s Smiles in Georgia and Tennessee= PRICELESS!

“Art with a PURPOSE”…it’s a magical theme to use as it teaches our students so much more than what the average art lesson teaches…it takes learning to the next level, it engages all students, it gives deep meaning to the art of creating!  I would love to hear if you have participated in the international Memory Project and what your students thought of it…and I hope that many of you will look into using it in the near future!

Debi West, Ed.S, NBCT
North Gwinnett High School
Suwanee, GA
GAEA Past President (2001-2007)

Monday 01.18.10

“ART with a PURPOSE”… National Art Honor Society!

Teaching 1300 students at the elementary level in my 14th year of teaching was ultimately what prompted me that it might be time to make a change.  So I moved to the high school level, moving down the street from my elementary school and feeling like a brand new teacher all over again!  It was exhilarating, exciting and nerve wracking all at once and after day 1 as a high school art teacher, I was hooked!  My next challenge was to take our National Art Honor Society to the next level!  I began to co-sponsor this with my dear friend, team mate and colleague, Dr. Bruce Bowman and together we have watched our NAHS soar!  From that first year with about 25 members, to where we are today with 66 members and our art students having opportunities to earn over 100 community service hours each semester, “ART with a PURPOSE” is alive and well in our North Gwinnett NAHS! 

Each event we partake in, gives back to the community in some way.  From our NAHS Induction, to Suwanee Day where we participate in the Parade and Face Painting, to working at the local football games, to the Taste of Suwanee Event, to working in Atlanta at the Shepherd Spinal Center, to local community fall festivals, to creating an art day at a local school for special education preschoolers, to working the Empty Bowls event at the local elementary school, to painting murals in the community, to illustrating poetry written by local 2nd graders and publishing books, to commissioning art in the community from photographs, to portraits, to custom Christmas ornaments, to taking spring trips, to hosting a Fun Run for charities with the school’s Beta Club, to being active members of our school’s Relay for Life team creating the t-shirts and the themed site signs…our National Art Honor Society students are indeed, making a difference in their communities and learning to be better, caring individuals in this world!  “ART with a PURPOSE” is well known at North Gwinnett High School where our student body is currently at 3400!  The NAHS is one of the largest clubs at the school – they are, as Maya Angelou would say, “All Living Art”!

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I look forward to seeing what your NAHS students are doing and perhaps working together on some collaborative service learning projects!

Debi West, Ed.S, NBCT
North Gwinnett High School
Suwanee, GA
GAEA Past President (2001-2007)

Friday 01.15.10

"ART with a PURPOSE" - North Gwinnett HS Student Video

Friday 01.15.10

“ART with a PURPOSE”… Mini Exhibits Raising Big Awareness!

In this blog I would like to discuss one more creative way that my students and I are raising money for Croy’s Cause.  I was attending my state art education association conference in November 2008 and walking through the vendors booths.  And there they were…the most adorable mini canvases and mini easels I had ever seen!  I had to have them, but I wasn’t sure why yet!  Then it dawned on me, I would spend a few days watching my students be creative as they worked freely on their own mini easel and canvas and we would host our own “Mini Art Exhibit”!   As I explained my idea to the vendor, they were excited to help out and sold me 75 mini easels and canvases at a 50% discount (a motto of mine:  if you don’t ask, you don’t get!).

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That February we hosted our first “Mini Art Exhibit”!  Again, we invited the community to join us.  This time it was easy!  We e-mailed out creative invitations, put out posters, hosted the event in the art room, set up a small table with chips and light refreshments, had one of my guitar playing students set up his guitar and amp and put out mini auction slips with each of the 75 creatively beautiful canvases and easels!  We started the silent bidding at $10 a piece and closed the show in an hour and a half!  By the end of the exhibit, every mini masterpiece had a bid, one even as high at $185!  The show might have been mini, but it was HUGE in its success!  Croy’s doctor even came to the event with her husband and talked a bit about urea cycle disorders, educating the community as to where their money was going!  After all of my students were paid their 50% portion, we sent a check to the NUCDF for $1042!  That is over a thousand dollars in less then 2 hours!  My students had a blast having a few days to create from the heart, while the community had a blast attending a fun, energetic and successful student exhibit and I knew that I was doing something special in Croy’s name… raising money and awareness to help other parents and other children affected with UCD’s.  These events are a win-win for everyone involved!

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A sidenote:  This event was so successful that I recently presented it at our GAEA Fall Conference as a hands-on event.  45 teachers came and watched a quick powerpoint about my ART with a PURPOSE lessons for which it is my hope that they will springboard from.  Then they were each given a mini canvas and easel.  They made precious, beautiful artworks and we auctioned them off, much as we did at school, but this time 50% went to Croy’s Cause, while the other 50% went to the NAHS Scholarship Fund!  I would love to help you conduct this event at your next state conference!  It’s amazing how successful the event was!  The teachers were thrilled to be a part of something bigger than learning yet another lesson or making another piece of art, this event helped a lot of people!  All 45 mini artworks were sold and we raised close to $800!

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Images from the recent GAEA fall conference when I conducted this lesson with art educators and we auctioned the art off for Croy's Cause and the NAHS scholarship.

Let me know the many ways that you are helping your students realize they have the power to make a difference in this world, through their ART!  I can’t wait to see the discussions you post…there is much to be said for this type of teaching!  Service Learning + Art Room = Success on many levels!

Debi West, Ed.S, NBCT
North Gwinnett High School
Suwanee, GA
GAEA Past President (2001-2007)

Wednesday 01.13.10

“ART with a PURPOSE”…Art SAVES Lives!

In my first blog I briefly mentioned how art education saves my life.  I have always said that art can save lives, but in 2008, art saved my life, literally, and it still does.  My beautiful son, Croy, was born with a Urea Cycle Disorder and on July 14th, 2008 he died.  A part of me died with him that day.  I didn’t want to move forward, I wanted to stop. Just stop.  I found it hard to breathe.  I found it hard to think of anything other than how awful my life would be without my Croy in it.  But then I received a phone call from the executive director of the National Urea Cycle Disorder Foundation (NUCDF), Cindy LeMons.  She told me about how her mother did stop the day her sister died.  She was no longer a mother, a wife, a friend.  That woke me up a bit.  I looked at my daughter and I looked at my husband.  I looked at my friends, my colleagues.  And finally, I took a long, hard look at my students.  Hundreds of students.  Some I had taught when they were in elementary school.  Some I taught at the high school level, and many I was supposed to be teaching by mid August.  They came to the hospital, they texted me, they came to my house.  They all knew and loved Croy and they all said the same thing… “we need you.”  Through my faith, my family and my beautiful art students, I moved forward.  I went back to school several weeks later and took baby steps.  I set up my art room.  I wrote new curricula.  I leaned on my amazing art team to hold me up.  But art and my students literally saved my life, and they still do!  Several weeks into my first few weeks back at school, Cindy from the NUCDF called me to tell me that they were receiving more donations on their website then they ever had…all to honor my son’s memory and to raise money so that no other mother would have to lose her child due to a lack of knowledge about this disease!


So I began to think about this and how it could all tie together in my “ART with a PURPOSE” plans.  I began to think of ways that I could take the 2 things I was most passionate about, my family/Croy and my students/art education and raise awareness for both Croy’s Cause: Urea Cycle Disorder Awareness and the power of the ARTS!   The three C’s were born!  Caring and Creating in the Community!

Community art exhibits are always so important, but I usually invited the community to come to my school.  If I did an exhibit outside of the school, it was small and intimate.  This began to change.  The first event we held was at “Firenze Coffee House and Gallery” in Suwanee, GA.  My advanced Draw/Paint students created wonderful Collage to Canvas art works and if the student chose to have their art for sale, they were sold at the event.  Any money made would be divided 50%, half to the student artist, half to Croy’s Cause.  The next event was held at “Chocolatte Café” in Suwanee, GA and this time we took our Picasso color studies, mounted them and hung them in an impressive display.  All of the art was for sale for $30, again, 50% going to the student artist, 50% going to Croy’s Cause.  The next event was held in Atlanta, at the “WonderRoot” Gallery!  They had seen an article in the local newspaper about what my students were doing and asked if we would consider going to Atlanta!  My students were thrilled!  These community exhibits began to grow as the word spread!  Next we went to “Smitten Boutique”, again in Suwanee and we just held our 2nd exhibit at “Peace, Love and Pottery” in Suwanee Town Center.  This last event was titled “Not Your Mama’a Fruitcake” and it was an awesome showing of my Draw/Paint student’s fruit studies in acrylic.  Again, we usually keep the cost of the art at about $30 and we are seeing that approximately 40% of the art sells at the opening reception!  My students are so excited to not only be considered exhibiting artists in the community, they are helping to raise money for a great cause.  During our last show, I asked them if they would like to do some research about other charities that we could perhaps donate too, but they were adamant that the money should continue to go to Croy’s Cause.  I look forward to putting these exhibits together and my students enjoy researching new locations for the exhibits, coming up with titles for the shows, creating the invitations, advertising and marketing ways to get media coverage and participation and it is truly making them better, kinder citizens in the community and teaching them important art skills!  I remember a few years ago when Bonnie Rushlow mentioned “using the community as a museum”.  I was inspired by those words.  I now use the community as my student’s museum and as a means to bring awareness to the importance of caring and giving back to charities that are important to us!  Art saves lives…and it saves mine daily!

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Images from the Picasso study as well as the collage to canvas lesson (for a copy of this lesson, go to my e-portfolio :

I would love to hear about how art saves your student’s lives…your lives…ways in which you can take this idea to a new level…let’s work together and share ideas!

I will be presenting this in more detail at the upcoming NAEA convention in Baltimore…Come and See Me!
3C’s: Caring and Creating in the Community   log in with your name and password, then type croywest for your password.

Debi West, Ed.S, NBCT
North Gwinnett High School
Suwanee, GA
GAEA Past President (2001-2007)

Thursday 01. 7.10

“ART with a PURPOSE”…Going Once, Going Twice, SOLD! The How-To’s of an Art Auction!

Cancer!  It’s a terrible, awful, scary word.  It’s a word that no one should have to hear, it’s a word we don’t want our children to ever have to know!  But unfortunately, it’s a word that 1 in 3 of us will hear in our lifetime. It’s a reality.  So what does this have to do with ART and Art Education?  Good question.  Perhaps we can all use the creativity and caring inherent in our students to work together to find a cure!  Perhaps we can begin in the art room!  I began my quest to find a cure 15 years again when my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and I first came in close, personal contact with that very terrifying word.  I am so happy to report that she is a survivor, thanks to medical science, early detection and education, she beat Cancer!  I tell this story to my students yearly.  I want them to know that people we all know are living with cancer and that they, as do our artists and students, have the power to help! 

Several years ago I began putting together a huge student “ART AUCTION” with all proceeds going toward our school’s Relay for Life Team for the American Cancer Society!  Last year, we raised over $6000 at our Art Auction!  Our student generated “ART AUCTION” gets larger and larger each year.  It started at the elementary school and I brought it with me to my current high school.  It is a mandatory assignment for all of our art students.  Our visual art team consists of 4 art teachers and over 500 art students.  The event is held in March to celebrate both Youth Art Month and service learning and it’s one of our big kick-off events for our school’s Relay for Life!  Students make invitations, posters, contact the local newspapers, TV stations, etc… and advertise the event BIG TIME!  This is the key to its success.  You’ve all heard the phrase, “If we build it they will come”, well I have changed that to, “If they KNOW about it, they will come!”  Especially when it’s something like cancer that most people unfortunately know about, many on a too personal basis!  This silent auction has hundreds of student artworks set out in the cafeteria with bid sheets.  For 2 hours the event is open to the public and we sell cookies, sodas, fruit, etc… for a nominal fee, again, with all proceeds going to our Relay Team.  When the silent bidding ends, we take about 10 artworks and go LIVE!  It is so much fun to see people outbidding each other for the sake of ART and for the sake of raising money to find a cure for cancer!  It’s a beautiful event and one that the community looks forward to each year!  This event is so big now that our orchestra plays, our chorus sings and local frame shops have even joined us to sell professional mats and frames for the art, giving back 50% to our Relay Team! 

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I would love to hear about your “ART AUCTIONS”!  Do you have any now?  Are you interested in setting one up this year?  Do you have a Relay for Life Team?  Do your students know how easy it is to donate to the American Cancer Society?   I think one of the reasons I am so excited to be an NAEA Monthly Mentor is to teach everyone the importance of teaching our students about the importance and significance of “ART with a PURPOSE”!  It takes our teaching to a whole new level!

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Creative Comments are appreciated…let’s keep this conversation moving, lives could be depending on it!

Debi West, Ed.S, NBCT
North Gwinnett High School
Suwanee, GA
GAEA Past President (2001-2007)