ROSEDALE — Camille Gibson, a Golden Ring Middle School art teacher and department chair for visual arts in Baltimore County’s East Zone schools, was recently named Eastern Region Middle Level Art Educator of the Year by the National Art Education Association.

Gibson, who is in her seventh year at Golden Ring, said that when her district leader entered her in the competition late last summer, she didn’t think much of it. Her focus at the time was on the year ahead.

“Honestly, I kind of completely forgot about it,” she said. “I was just preparing myself as a teacher and getting ready for my students.”

Then one day late into the semester, she got an email from that same district leader — she’d won!

The national award spotlights excellence in art education, honoring Gibson for her work in the classroom and for developing Art for a Cause, a program encouraging students to tackle social justice issues and explore their identities through art.

“I want them to be able to be open and free to express themselves and who they are,” she said. “They can use art as a vehicle to empower themselves, give themselves a voice and know that they matter.”

Gibson embeds the principles of Art for a Cause in her course curricula, and has seen her students take on a range of social justice issues like racial justice, police brutality and mental health stigma.

In the wake of the 2015 death of Freddie Gray while in custody of the Baltimore City Police Department, her students created a collective mural and individual protest signs. They have led art fundraisers for causes like breast cancer and autism awareness. Families have also joined for art therapy nights to build healthy dialogue around mental health.

She hopes students come away with an appreciation of the power to enact change through art.

“It’s really important that young folks know that even at a young age, they can do something about things in their community they want to change,” Gibson said. “Art gives them that power.”

Gibson grew up in an artistic household. Her mother was an art teacher, and there were several artists in the family. From a young age, she attended galleries and museums. Being around art so much as a child led her to aspire to become an artist and art educator.

“For me, art was a safe space,” she said. “I could express myself through visual representation without being apologetic.”

She taught in Jacksonville, NC while her husband was stationed at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune before taking some time off to raise her kids. She and her husband ended up in California before they decided to return to his home state, which brought her back to Maryland.

Ultimately, she decided to get back into the classroom, also earning a master’s degree in leadership teaching in cultural proficiency and a post master’s certificate in administration and supervision, both from Notre Dame of Maryland University.

Gibson will be presented with her award during the Virtual 2021 NAEA National Convention taking place March 4 through 7. She said that despite not being able to celebrate in person, she has received an outpouring of support from friends, family, students and colleagues.

For Gibson, her students are what keeps her going.

“I can’t let my kids down,” she said. “They hold me accountable. They always come with these ideas, and I respect my students and want to support them.”

And through them, she sees the impact art and art education has in society.

“The students come up with ideas and we talk about issues they may want to address,” she said. “We have to think about how we are going to go about solving that problem and how we are going to use our artwork to be that voice of change.”

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