Liz Caruso lives in Carpinteria and has been teaching music for 13 years, the last nine of which have been at Monroe Elementary School in Santa Barbara. Nominated by her colleagues and school administrators, Caruso was recently named the 2021 Santa Barbara Bowl Performing Arts Teacher of the Year—the most prestigious award given to music teachers in Santa Barbara County. “This is a fantastic award for a fantastic teacher. We are very proud and happy for Ms. Caruso!” wrote Monroe Elementary School Principal Brian Naughton in a letter to parents.

In addition to earning her credential as a music teacher as part of her undergraduate degree at Long Island University in New York, Caruso is certified in the Orff-Schulwerk method that teaches young children about music using their mind and body through a mixture of singing, dancing, acting and the use of percussion instruments.

Monroe Elementary is a TK through sixth-grade school, and students in grades four to six pick a band or orchestra instrument to play. The school keeps a sufficient inventory so that each student may keep their instrument to take home and practice. Caruso teaches students how to play all the instruments.

School closures due to Covid-19 have significantly impacted music instruction, and Caruso says she is “trying to focus on the bright side—focusing on things I can’t usually get to in class.” She went on to say that she is taking the opportunity to speak with her students online about listening to music like musicians do—mapping sequences, noting the changes in mood of certain pieces, and listening for expression. It’s not easy, Caruso admits: “Try teaching music over the computer,” she said jokingly.

Until the pandemic skewered the school year, Caruso’s sixth grade students were enjoying great success as the only elementary-aged band to ever be asked to perform at the KTYD annual education benefit. Another unfortunate consequence of Covid-19 is that Caruso cannot enjoy her award with her school community of staff, parents, and students. Still, she says, “That’s OK—I wouldn’t do anything differently even if I didn’t win an award.”

Between Zoom classes, Caruso keeps active by paddle boarding, cycling, and trail running.