By Michele Cohen
This inspirational article, by Michele Cohen, first appeared in the Moore College of Art & Design magazine. It is about a mother’s love for her son, her passion for teaching, her belief in the healing power of art, and her spirit of generosity. We have selected Michele Cohen as one of our favorite world changers. Thank you Michele!
Deborah (Debi) Dunavant West, who received her Art Certification from Moore and is a former Young Artist Workshop (YAW) teacher, recently made a generous gift to Moore to establish the 2015 Croy West Art Education Scholarship benefiting a candidate for Moore’s MA in Art Education with an Emphasis in Special Populations program. Her gift honors both the memory of her son, Croy (short for “Charley Roy”), who passed away in 2008 just shy of turning 12, as well as the 22 years she has devoted to teaching art to students at both the elementary and high school levels.
West, her husband, Chuck, and her daughter Carson, 17, intend to contribute to the scholarship on an annual basis. West said it is her intention to build the fund in years to come.
“I want the money to go to an incoming student who has a passion and a love for children and the discipline of art, because if you ever lose sight as to what’s the most important thing in teaching, you lose sight of what it is to be a teacher: loving your children and loving your discipline. Everything else will fall into place.”
West knows this well. In 1990, she was working as a graphic designer in Philadelphia and teaching Sunday school to fourth-graders in Ardmore, PA. One day, she had a life-changing realization: she enjoyed teaching on Sundays more than her full time job working in graphic design.
With an undergraduate degree in Graphic Design under her belt, West decided to continue freelancing while earning her Art Certification from Moore (there was no Master’s program at the time). And she was hooked.
“When I started at Moore, learning took on a different meaning for me,” she said. “It was about how I could be the best teacher I could for my kids! How I could open an art history book and suddenly be able to design an incredibly creative curriculum for my kids! It was magical!”
She began student teaching at Friends Select School and then in YAW at Moore. “I just knew this was it. This was what I was supposed to do.”
West relocated to Georgia with her husband and earned a MA in Art Education in 1999 and an Education Specialist in Art Education degree in 2004, both from the University of Georgia. She is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Language and Literacy because of her interest in writing and publishing curriculum guides.
In November, 2014, West decided she wanted to donate money to a school that supports art education and special education. She learned that Moore does both.
“No one else in the nation is doing what Moore’s doing. I know my son is smiling down and saying he’s so glad I waited to find the right school,” West said.
Croy had a metabolic disease that caused a slight brain injury, giving him autistic traits.
“We are so grateful for the generosity of Debi West and her family in creating this scholarship in honor of their son, Croy,” President Cecelia Fitzgibbon said. “I was moved by how much joy Debi got from making this donation to Moore and how good she felt by making a difference in a graduate student’s future.”
West is currently the department chair of the Fine Arts and Visual Arts Department at North Gwinnet High School in Suwanee, GA, where she teaches art lessons to 190 students daily, including many children with special needs.
When her son was alive, West was always focused on special needs issues. “You can’t put these kids at a back table and ignore them,” she said. “Our teachers are ill equipped to know what to do to properly teach them. That’s why we need more programs like Moore’s. It’s essential to the field of art education.”
West is a strong advocate for arts education as the past president of the Georgia Art Education Association and the southeastern vice president for the National Art Education Association (NAEA). She lectures often about advocacy and “teacher burnout” at regional and national art conferences all across the country.
When she’s not teaching, giving lectures or advocating for the arts, West is a contributing editor for Arts and Activities magazine, where she offers fun lesson plans and the tools to teach them. An artist herself, she also does mixed media work and makes custom hand-stamped jewelry.
“Art definitely saves people. Art saved me. I’m still standing and breathing and really living with authentic joy,” she said. “Art Education is my passion, my hobby, it’s everything I do. It’s my life.”
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About Michele Cohen
Michele Cohen is Associate Director of Communications at Moore College of Art & Design. She was Director of Communications at the Delaware College of Art & Design. Michele spent ten years as a newspaper reporter, most recently at The News Journal in Delaware, where she covered higher education, K-12 education and municipal government. She earned her BA in English/Journalism with a minor in Spanish Studies from the University of Delaware.