On Tuesday, May 18th, if you came up on the 700 building of South Broward High School, you would have seen 25 students dressed in Hawaiian shirts and beige shorts, a floral lei draped around their necks, tossing beach balls and whirling hula-hoops around their waists.
It was a celebration of various kinds: of student accomplishments, of art appreciation and of the end of a difficult school year. Another ending they were celebrating? The retirement of their beloved art teacher, Mrs. Susan Ostheim.
“I don’ t think we’ve ever had this type of experience where we had everyone here like this. So I think this would be my most memorable experience with Mrs. Ostheim,” said art student and SBHS junior Viranda Walters.
After 30 years of teaching high school art, 25 of those at SBHS, Ostheim is hanging up her smock and putting away her paint brushes. Every year, she celebrates the accomplishments of her students. This year, it was a combined celebration of art and her long, distinguished career.
“I was so happy it ended this way, we are famous for parties,” said Ostheim.” I love giving these kids a party, so the fact we were able to do this one more time was amazing.”
Over the years, Osthiem has inspired many students to express themselves through their art. SBHS senior Jacqueline Ladue is a current second year art student and completed Photography and AP Studio with Ostheim. She credits the art teacher with helping her come out of her shell artistically.
“Mrs. Ostheim has taught me to never be scared to experiment with new things,” said Ladue. “Before her class all my work was textbook style.”
From drawing to painting to photography, Ostheim inspired generations of students to pursue their love of art. Former student Liz Hill remembers the time, effort and hard work Ostheim put into founding a thriving art program at South Broward High School.
“It is not in a teacher’s job description to do the most,” said Hill. “But, that’s what makes certain teachers stand out”.
It’s a sentiment shared by SBHS alum Eliza Furr. She graduated in 2012 and is now teaches drawing and ceramic classes at several local museums. Furr says that Ostheim’s class were a safe haven for her, where she fostered a caring and creative learning environment.
“Her ability to foster that kind of openness and community for teens is so important to their well-being,” said Furr said. “She was able to take hold of our humanity with some kind of power that other teachers just couldn’t seem to access.”
Clearly, Ostheim’s teaching has rubbed off on her. Furr currently teaches clay and drawing classes at Young at Art, and she doesn’t accept “I can’t do it” from her own students, similarly to Ostheim.
“My students, whether they know it or not, get a little taste of Mrs. O every time they take my clay and drawing classes,” said Furr.
Another SBHS alum Christina Monroe, who graduated in 2012, felt a sense of accomplishment with the art she created. Monroe originally took Ostheim’s class as a graduation requirement, but ended up loving it.
“I remained in her classes because of her,” said Monroe. “Ms. Ostheim made me feel cared about, supported and her classes were genuinely fun.”
Not only is Ostheim adored by students, but faculty also have great respect and love for her. Media Specialist Monica Ridlehoover and Ostheim started teaching at SBHS about the same time, 24 years ago.
Ridlehoover says they’ve worked together her entire career and says that Osheim has a passion for everything she does.
“She does so much and makes it look so easy,” she said. “She’s inspired so many kids. That passion definitely wears off on her kids.”
Although Ridlehoover doesn’t see Osthiem everyday, when she does, it’s like seeing an old friend, so she will miss her. But, she thinks Osthiem deserves a rest.
“It’s our loss and definitely her gain, “ said Ridlehoover. “She’s been through so much, good and bad. It’s time for Susan to concentrate on Susan.”
When she thinks of coming into school without seeing Ostheim, she sighs and places her hand over her heart.
“In my heart there’s definitely going to be a small hole without her here, for sure,” said Ridlehoover.
School administrators know the power of a great teacher and most think Ostheim is one of the best. “passionate”, “inspiring”, and “awesome” are the words former SBHS principal Mr. Alan Strauss uses to describe her. He has known Ostheim since she first started working at the school.
“Her love of art spreads like wildfire,” said Strauss.
It’s a sentiment shared by South Broward’s current principal, Mrs. Patricia Brown. She believes Ostheim’s actions speak volumes about her character.
She remembers that during the pandemic, Ostheim found out that a co-worker had COVID. Without knowing who it was, she bought them groceries and added to a group of supplies that were delivered to their home. It’s the kind of quality Brown aspires to emulate.
“Ms. Ostheim has inspired me to continue being positive and work hard until the last day of retirement as she is,” she said.
As faculty and students acknowledge her retirement and reminisce about her love for art, some are glad to see her move on to the next stage of her life and believe that she will continue to do great things.
“I honestly just want the best for her, if this is the chapter of her life, she is moving to I support it one-hundred percent,” said Hill. “I wish her nothing but the best. She deserves time for herself.”
A week before the art club celebration, SBHS art dogs posted an important announcement on their instagram: “As some of you may already know, Mrs. Ostheim is retiring this year, but, we want to do something special for her that she’ll remember for her whole retirement!”
That special thing turned out to be a piece of themselves in the form of their own artwork that each student presented at the ceremony, one of which was a painted portrait of Ostheim.
The students also surprised Ostheim with a gift basket full of stuff animals, art supplies, and chocolate goodies and colorful flowers. Clearly touched, Ostheim teared up as she received the gift.
“We made it, we did it,” she said. “I have to admit, in the beginning of this school year, I had my doubts. Shame on me! But we have had the most amazing year that I can have. I’m proud of you.”