Campus celebrates life of former Special Education teacher Sally Gibbs


Educator Sally Gibbs and her legacy will be remembered by students, family members, friends, and the Northgate community for years to come.

Northgate lost a longtime educator who cared deeply for children, and especially for students facing physical and developmental challenges.
Sally Gibbs, recently retired special education teacher for over 20 years at Northgate and Pine Hollow Middle School, died Jan. 12, at the age of 63.
Community members describe the passion and commitment Gibbs showed for helping others and her significant impact on students and co-workers.

“Her whole emphasis was to help the students,” shared long time friend and special education teacher Maria Viscogliosi. “Many times she would go far and beyond what was expected of a teacher. The care and love she felt for these students was so ingrained within her being.”

Gibbs implemented programs to foster independence for her pupils. The cooking program and personal finance class, to name two, were initiated by Gibbs to teach students the necessary skills to thrive upon graduation.

“She positively affected her students’ lives, giving them the tools they needed to succeed in life,” said Morena Grimaldi, a longtime aide. “She helped them navigate their communities, not depend on other people, and become contributing individuals to their communities.”

Gibbs always found time to show compassion for her students and to cater to their individual needs. “In the classroom, if the child was having a hard day, the teaching stopped and she gave everything she needed to give to that child,” Viscogliosi said. “She made sure they knew that she heard what they were saying and gave them the time to process whatever hardship they were going through.”

Gibbs also initiated the garden, which sits outside of special education’s portable classroom 56 and to the right of the pool, about 10 years ago.
“She came up with all these ideas and sometimes it was hard to keep up,” said Viscogliosi with a smile. “The garden was built for no other reason but to support a student who loves gardening.”
“The garden was very important to her so that students would get the idea of where our food comes from and to see the whole process of how food grows,” Grimaldi added.

Initially designed with help from teachers including Susan Sigge, then a classroom aide and now Northgate’s special education teacher, and volunteers, Gibbs created the garden from scratch. Last year, the garden received an update when junior Patrick Chesnutt led a renovation effort for his Eagle Scout project.

Gibbs’ friends and colleagues hope to add benches to the garden, allowing the school to enjoy the beautiful foliage, and to officially dedicate the garden to Gibbs in honor of her commitment to students.
Students, friends of the special education class, and student teacher assistants all say Gibbs successfully integrated excitement within the classroom and instruction with the pursuit of knowledge.

“She had a real impact on me because she made everything look fun,” said senior Rachel Carr. Many students who didn’t have Gibbs as a teacher also got to see her in action during Best Buddies Club meetings, which brought students to the class during lunchtime on Thursdays.

“All the students really liked her. She helped them out each individually. She really thought it was important for each individual student to get attention, and made sure she never left any of her students behind. She had a really close connection to all of them,” explained Seraph Woodbury, co-president of the Best Buddies Club, which encourages friendships between special education students and club members.

Besides a strong devotion to her own students, Gibbs could be found at various events throughout campus. She was incredibly into sports, especially football and the girl’s basketball team. No matter where there game was held, Gibbs was in attendance. Additionally, she helped students struggling through cyber-high and held chess games during lunch, welcoming the entire school into her classroom.
“She loved strategic games and so do I,” said senior Cole Krieger, who was a teacher assistant for Gibbs for two years and occasionally played chess with her. “She connected with students. It’s as if they were interacting on a personal level. They trusted each other.”

“I remember her always having a very special charm that made everyone welcome in her room,” said senior Carlo Colocho, a class TA this year who also helped last year. “She had a burning passion for what she did, and you could see it from the way she treated her students and everyone. She wanted to make sure everyone felt confident leaving her room, and leaving this school.”

Gibbs pushed her students to take part in activities of their choice and to step outside their comfort zones.
“She encouraged our students to look within themselves and see what else they like to do. For instance, we had a student a few years back who joined the cheerleading team. We had another student who was on the swim team, and then another student who became manager for the baseball team. She really pushed not to be afraid, always strive for the highest of whatever it was,” Viscogliosi said.

Gibbs’ attention for her students reached beyond the walls of Northgate.
“She cared deeply about her students and she wanted to make sure she gave everything to those kids. She really did. And she found a way to get whatever it was the kids needed whether it was an item or an experience, she would figure it out,” said special education teacher Susan Sigge.

Gibbs had a former student who wore broken glasses for years, until one day she took the student to the doctor and paid for a new pair. There was another student that Gibbs assisted from middle school all the way into adulthood. She paid for tutoring, helped secure him a ride to graduation, find his own apartment and job, and even encouraged him to write a book.

The presence that Gibbs had on campus left a mark on each person she came in contact with. Her fresh ideas and caring personality helped her students to thrive and push towards success.

“She had high expectations for all of us, never to the point of stress, never to the point of unable to accomplish that goal, just enough that you needed to push a bit more to get to it and that’s why the kids flourished. The kids. That was her motivating force,” Viscogliosi said.

“She really wanted to show the world, show others that the kids in this classroom are just like everybody else,” Sigge added. “They have the same desires for friendship and learning. They want to learn, they’re hungry for that and they shouldn’t be treated any differently because they have different needs.”

As a testimony to the great number of lives she touched, over 200 people attended her Celebration of Life on Jan. 10 at the Pleasant Hill Pavilion. She is remembered by her siblings, two grown sons and a granddaughter who was deeply important to her and many friends. Co-workers, students and their families will always remember the big heart she possessed and the strong impression that Sally Gibbs left on the Northgate community.

“She searched her whole life for a job where she could make a difference in the world, but it was not until she started teaching this population that she felt it was her mission,” Viscogliosi concluded.