- Sponsorship -

Teacher of the Year Shows Students the Impact Art Can Have

In Janine Campbell’s Byron Center West Middle School art classroom, a student molded clay into masks; another created a cardboard tree from aluminum; others painted and sketched or created digital art on laptops.

The eighth-grade art class appeared more like high-school independent study.

Instead of being bound by project guidelines, students were leading their own creative processes. Campbell challenged them to take the theme, “Environment, Spaces and Places,” and convey a message using whatever medium they choose.

“They are given the theme and concept and can interpret it in their own way,” said Campbell, a nine-year teacher at West Middle School.

Student Dalton VanderArk was busy creating a metallic piece of faux foliage. “It’s a tree that represents how the world is becoming more and more metal, more unnatural,” he said.

Campbell, who is involved in implementingnew national art teaching standards, brings an enlightened perspective to the classroom, and her shift away from traditional methods proves you can’t paint school art programs with a broad brush.

Campbell was recently named the Michigan Arts Education Association Middle Level Educator or the Year, nominated by Eighth grader Anna Pavlak is one of many award-winning art students Campbell has taughttwo other Michigan art teachers for her work with students and teachers.

Outside the classroom, Campbell has served as the MAEA digital editor, has presented at regional and national conferences, and recently spoke on new art standards created by the National Coalition for Core Art Standard to a national audience.

Not Just a Pretty Picture

With her students, Campbell focuses on getting them to delve deep as artists. She teaches the process that goes into creating art with meaning.

“Pretty pictures are nice, but if you can make a beautiful image that also has an impact emotionally because it means something to you, that is more significant,” Campbell said.

Ideas can be found everywhere, she said.

“My goal with my students is I want them to notice things that go unnoticed, which is a life skill,” Campbell said. “Every day you pass by the same room or take the same route to work. I want to to get them to slow down, be observant, and find inspiration in those everyday moments that don’t always go noticed.”

Art can merge creativity and problem-solving perfectly, she explained.

“One thing art does for kids is it offers them the opportunity to think, to slow down and to investigate. That’s something I want my students to come away with: the ability to think of meaningful questions and innovative solutions,” she said.

Eighth-grader Anna Pavlak worked on a large-scale three-dimensional cardboard piece. She said she wasn’t interested in art until she was in Campbell’s class, but now she’s won awards. She also attends the after-school art class that Campbell started.

“She’s really good at explaining how to do things. She’s very encouraging and motivating,” Anna said.

Campbell graduated from The University of Michigan-Flint and Western Michigan University. She has also taught as adjunct faculty for Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University and Western Michigan University. She was also named a 2014 PBS Learning Media Digital Innovator. Her classroom received a second place award for the use of educational technology in the 2011 PBS Innovation Awards, and first place for the 2013 STEAMed Innovator Awards.

Student Dalton VanderArk creates a piecePutting Themselves ‘Out There’

Another huge focus of Campbell’s is bringing art outside the school walls. Each year, she helps students nab awards from many competitions, and they post thousands of pieces on the online gallery Artsonia.

Last year, Byron Center’s seventh- through 12th-grade program was the moat award-winning program in Kent County and third in the region for the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards contest. Mackenzie Reid, now a freshman, won a national silver medal in the contest, placing her among the top 1 percent of about 230,000 pieces of work submitted to the program. She received her award at Carnegie Hall, in New York City.

Student Emma McCloud, now an eighth grader, was a winner in ArtStart, a competition for children run by ArtPrize; Anna Pavlak and Emma McCloud, now eighth graders, won in the Sooper Art Competition, run by the Sooper Yooper website and the Wege Foundation.

Campbell last year selected five student pieces to enter into the regional MAEA show, all were selected and four advance to the state. Two were named in the top 15 for the state of Michigan. Top 15 placers were Sara Thompson and Morgan Baker.

“I don’t know what my program would be if we didn’t put ourselves out there. Another thing I want my students to walk away with is the confidence to take a positive risk. With art, you are making the invisible visible. You’re taking ideas and putting them so someone else can see into the pathway of your brain, which can be scary,” Campbell said.

But students’ work goes even broader than into contests, she said. “The kids know that whatever they are doing it’s not just for me. What they do matters and it has an impact on the world.”


Byron Center West Middle School Art

Art Gallery

Byron Center Public Schools News


- Sponsorship -
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio or email Erin.


Learning from a place full of living things

Rebecca Perry and her class of eager kindergartners spent their morning exploring the newly redone Living Lab at Zinser Elementary...

Mapping the road to learning

Elementary teachers Billie Freeland and Nicole Andreas are at the forefront of using a curriculum designed to further educational goals, regardless of whether students are in person or online...

‘Even though it is extra work, I don’t mind the changes’

Teachers of specialty subjects — art, music and physical education — share their experiences after the pandemic prompts changes to class procedures...

Bus drivers work as daytime cleaners during pandemic

It’s also a plus to have familiar faces around school...


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Related Articles

Fourth-grader’s pickle stand inspired by school marketplace

‘With my tiny fingers, I am good at stuffing them,’ said the young pickle peddler. ‘You can see how they are packed in, so you get more for the money’...

Spreading out in the great outdoors

Outdoor education mid-pandemic is proving to be a welcome and successful alternative to indoor, masked learning in Byron Center this fall...

Plotting for a plot

Students’ hand-drawn maps are meant for the safekeeping of memories and to spur ideas for when they write personal narratives...
- Sponsorship -


Engagement: The Most Important Measure of Student Success

Polls find that students’ engagement in their school work declines as they ascend the grades. Tests that don’t relate to their real-life experiences exacerbate the problem...


Food ‘angels’ support hungry kids through pandemic

They work all across Kent County, guardian angels with peanut butter on their hands and crumbs on their shirtsleeves...
- Sponsorship -


Maranda Where You LiveWGVU