Ladue Schools art teacher Elisa Roth aims to create an “oasis of joy” inside her classroom each day – “a place of complete and total freedom and creativity.”
For the last 23 years, Old Bonhomme Elementary students have come to her for a moment of creative expression between studying other subjects, which she considers one of the most rewarding aspects of her job. Roth will retire at the end of this semester after about 28 years of teaching in the metro area.
The St. Louis native says she first fell in love with the profession after teaching English in Milan, Italy. She later returned to the U.S. to pursue a teaching certificate and earned a Master of Arts degree in education from Washington University in St. Louis.
“I believe firmly that art is a way to beautify your environment and express yourself, and so we’ve done a lot of beautification projects at Old Bonhomme [Elementary],” Roth says. “Sort of like, if it’s your house, you decorate it. This is our school, so we decorate it.”
Her students’ artwork has been displayed through murals, mosaics and vibrant bulletin boards lining the school hallways. Some projects even appear on the @obartstudio Instagram profile, which provides a peek into life inside Roth’s classroom and beyond.
“The students are constantly surrounded by the work that they do and feel valued,” Roth describes. “The thing that I love about this school is that they have given me the freedom to build this really wonderful environment and this really wonderful community through the arts.”
Roth helped facilitate a mosaic installation inside the Olivette Civic Center and united members of the police and fire departments, students and other local residents to complete this collaborative piece of art. She also worked to expand her school’s diversity committee and established a way for students to honor Martin Luther King Jr. Day through an annual celebration and day of service. In recent years, this has involved students knitting hats and making fleece blankets to be delivered to area senior centers and shelters in January.
“They know that they’re creating these things for someone as an honorary, you know, ode to Dr. King,” Roth says. “Over the last 15 years, we’ve done something different every year, depending on the need within the community, but the kids know that Dr. King’s day is a day of service.”
Although Roth’s elementary teaching career is coming to a close, she doesn’t plan to stop teaching altogether. She says she’ll explore opportunities to teach part-time and consider teaching different age groups, and she’s also looking forward to visiting her adult children during times other than spring break.
“Hopefully I’ll [immerse] myself in some of my own work,” she adds. “I’d like to be an artist again.”
Being embedded in the local community is something she knows she’ll miss. Roth says she’s thankful for the mentors and teachers who have surrounded her and encouraged her to grow professionally and personally.
“I didn’t get here alone,” she says. “It’s through these mentors and master teachers that I have been able to be who I am.”