It sounds kinda wacka-wacky to say so, but I really dig students who move during their high school years and end up in my class at Red Rock High (Go Rockers!). Don’t get me wrong; I love all my students but the ones who, at sixteen or seventeen, leave old friends and communities to move to our woods of the neck (ha!) appeal to me somehow. Maybe it’s because they are a type of “lost sheep” (if I can use that term) in need of some guidance from a mentor; sometimes it’s a kid who has gotten kicked out of other schools in Arizona or the Southwest for sexting and RRHS is his or her last shot at getting that coveted high school diploma. I had this one kid once, Steve Kamelson, who I swear got booted from at least seven different places in two years. Because of confidentiality, I can’t tell you why but let’s just say that authority wasn’t his thing. Neither was vending machines. For some reason, he didn’t find me threatening. I shouldn’t really play coy; I’ve attended more than my fair share (and used more of the district’s professional development budget) of classroom management and body lingo conferences and workshops and worked hard at developing a safe stance when approaching kids. I’ve even rearranged my classroom into a welcoming shape based on learning styles and corporate Feng Shui. During his junior year, Steve worked with me one-on-one to get caught up in his literacy, enough to get his G.E.D. and once he turned eighteen, light out on his own. His parents weren’t too happy when he left now that I think about it. I even had to meet with Principal Havenworth about tutoring him without his parents’ knowing. In the end, no one held me that responsible (per se) and let me go back to teaching Steinbeck and his brethren. Never heard from Steve again but I pride myself in having helped him learn to read and write but mostly read. All this is true of Kathy Zigfield who, after transferring last year, has learned so much at RRHS and has added even more to our campus community.
I was lucky enough to have Kathy in my American Literature class last year, and from day one, she was expertly prepared. Kathy’s class is particularly talented, and I teach a rigorous course, full of books kids need to read before they move on to the next step toward the ivory tower. Even though she hadn’t been in seminar-style classes before or had the same type of lofty expectations coming from that south side charter school (that almost lost its charter btw), she still had one of the highest daily averages in her section. I find it ironic that funds get channeled to charter schools when kids like Kathy succeed quite well in classes like mine. I know this is none of your affair but it might shed some light on the situation. Steve Kamelson was the same. All that money it took shuffling him around, all those IEPs, hearings, transfer admin, assessments, follow up monitoring, in-school supervised confidential detentions, and meetings. Ho, the meetings! If I had half those funds, I could make blind children see or almost! Kathy is an accomplished dancer, and she approaches her courses with the same hard work and discipline that she does her ballet. I knew I had a mature student when I saw the way she connected and learned from the many spheres in her life. She showed this type of intelligence to the class when we were discussing Act III of The Crucible by Arthur Miller. I arrange the students in a “fishbowl” formation so three kids discuss while the rest of us watch. Kathy amazed us all when she focused on the complex emotions of Elizabeth Proctor’s forgiveness of her husband John. That seemed to be the taking off point for Kathy; she started getting very emotional when confronting John’s lust after the vixen Abigail and even wept a bit. I think she had some personal issues around trust because she kept going back and forth on the idea of someone “stepping out,” on her, as she put it. I learned later that this term means being unfaithful. I’m ashamed to say what I’d guessed it to mean at first. Some of Kathy’s classmates got a little fidgety at Kathy’s overt displays of emotion (fist clenching, growling, minor hair pulling) but I applauded the personal way she invested in the text. If I had more students connecting that way to literature, I’d have the best classes in the state. Much better than most charter schools anyway. No matter how the kids reacted that day or later when they teased her a bit by calling her psych-kathy, Kathy did not disappoint that day.
One of the first remarkable things I learned about Kathy was that she has a doll collection. Being a modest person, she doesn’t broadcast her special interest like some kids on say the debate team with all their booming announcements at assembly or trophy presentations to the principal (is there a non-athletic extracurricular who gives out more trophies? Talk about bad for the environment! We don’t even have enough cases just for the debate team). In the beginning of our time together, Kathy saw her doll-collecting as a hindrance to her social life. What I encouraged her to do was to a) see her passion as a great gift to her unique voice and style, b) write an essay about the history of her collecting for our school literary magazine, The Oxford Comma and c) do a presentation in the cafetorium during open forum. Boy, did she take my advice to heart. Kathy really applied herself to her project; she worked through her process from initial idea to overall structure to her public speaking skills. I dared her to write a piece that showcased her range and even though the new faculty sponsor of The Oxford Comma, Ms. Peters-Miller-Saltzman, didn’t “get” the work, Kathy got valuable experience (and a few extra credit points from me!). Personally, when I ran TOC, I would have placed her submission in the coveted opening slot, but that’s no longer my call. Kathy combined literary merit and confident public speaking to impress everyone who came to the cafeteria that day. She even dressed like a life-sized doll which is the rage with certain Japanese youth. As luck would have it, someone pulled the fire alarm which impacted attendance, but I was there so I can testify to her strengths as a public speaker. It’s a shame that no one got to see the sample dolls she brought in, some quite rare indeed.
I know Kathy’s transition to RRHS was, as the Bard so aptly put it, “only
prologue” to “what’s to come” (also the Bard). I am so excited
to watch her transition into college and flourish (me, not the bard).
It is my great honor to write this letter in support of this most qualified candidate.
Recommending a living doll,
Richard Fulton Winter
1998 Arizona Junior Humanities Excellence in Teaching Award—Honorable Mention
Class Sponsor of the Alternate Student Council
Author of The Bard’s Gentle Graces (poetry chapbook)