North Gwinnett art teacher nationally recognized

SUWANEE -- When she takes the stage in March to accept her national award for art education, North Gwinnett High School teacher Debi West said she'll dedicate it to the thousands of kids she's taught over the years.

"They've made me a better person, and I owe it all to them," said West, who will be honored by the National Art Education Association as the 2012 Outstanding National Art Honor Society Sponsor of the Year, a title granted to teachers who exemplify leadership, commitment and service to the profession.

It's one of two awards she's received during the 2011-12 school year. In the fall, the Georgia Art Education Association presented West and colleague Bruce Bowman with the state level sponsor award.

When awarding the sponsor award at both the state and national level, West said judges "look at the activities you do with your kids, how large your organization is and what kind of community presence they have."

Her students at North Gwinnett High School clock more than 200 community service hours per year, West said. "The over-arching question these organizations look at ... your kids are selected to be in a national organization or club that touts their creativity, so what are they doing with their creativity?"

West will be honored in New York City at the national level March 1-4 during the annual conference.

"There is no greater testament to your exemplary contributions to the field of visual arts education than being chosen for this prestigious award," said Kathy Duse, the organization's executive services and convention and programs manager.

A veteran Gwinnett County Public Schools teacher, West has dedicated two decades to teaching art to Gwinnett students. She started her career with the district at Sugar Hill Elementary. She also taught at Rock Springs Elementary and Level Creek Elementary.

While teaching at Level Creek Elementary, she was named 2005 Gwinnett County Teacher of the Year.

West holds a bachelor's degree in studio art, a master's degree in education and a specialist's degree in art education from the University of Georgia.