Starlene Franklee was the featured Speak Out! speaker this fall at our annual parent “Getting to Know Us” evening. This choice spot is usually reserved for notable alums like drummer Zach Lind from the band Jimmy Eat World or John McCain’s son James (who only attended RRHS for one year), yet none of the faculty was surprised to see Starlene behind the podium addressing a sizeable crowd (compared to, say, a charter school). She has a very unique story to tell that, unless you are a cadaver (ha!), is inspiring to all who are lucky enough to hear it (at least for the first time). One of my great joys last year was to be a witness to Starlene’s journey of hard work, perseverance, and excellence. A lot of what she said in her speech I’d helped her what I call “wrestle with” and even though she never really mentioned my assistance and ignored my title “Try to Catch a Rising Starlene!” I know she values the time we spent crafting what she referred to as her “platform” but what lowly English teachers like to call her voice. She is on the type of rocket path that will make her successful wherever she goes to school and in whichever career path she chooses. She is that dynamic and dresses very stylish for a high schooler. Her shoes alone are a frequent topic for discussion for both faculty and students.
Starlene was in my American Literature course last year and her infectious personality shone from day one. She is a gifted orator in so many ways, most of them quite helpful. In our seminar-style discussions, she was often the conductor or what some of my Hispanic students called a bruja (female leader), helping to orchestrate our rich and textured conversations. I recall one particular insight that Starlene had where she zeroed in on Darl’s igniting the barn fire in Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying. She actually divided the class in two: pro-burning and anti-burning. Some of the reluctant students like Will Vague and Jasper Clarendonson had what I thought was a hard time deciding but Starlene turned to me, flipped her hair and said what they really had was a hard time moving. Her tone was a bit unkind to the pair but, at the same time, she gave me unique access to teen motivation, so I allowed her to student-lead. I learned later that she had just returned from a Reach One/Teach One/Preach One youth leadership retreat in Tempe and wanted to try out some of their kinesthetic action exercises or KAE! She asked me to move all the desks to the middle of the room while she instructed each side. The anti-burning group had to build a human barn which was more challenging than the side that had to mimic fire which was mostly waving jazz hands and wiggling hips like music videos often do. Some groaning and hissing. Expert educators would call this “full body learning” and even though I had to send a few kids to the nurse after Gillespie’s barn collapsed, I thought the class wildly successful. Will and Jasper claimed they broke their elbows but Will’s was just bruised. Honestly, I think Jasper was faking it. He’s kind of a baby.
Last year, Starlene discovered through online research that
she has Indigenous Mexican ancestry and immediately found ways to connect her new
identity to Junot Diaz’s The Brief
Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. These ways included adopting a mild accent,
adding flags and symbols to her notebook and wearing darker eyeliner. Starlene
never hesitates to take a risk in order to learn more about herself or to help
her classes be better. I really miss having that kind of spirited connectedness
in my class. I tried to get her to work with Ms. Peters-Miller-Saltzman, who
teaches senior English and the elective Weeping
Woman, Hollering Woman: Voices From the Dying and Crying Diaspora. I
thought this was a natural connection since Ms. Peters-Miller-Saltzman herself
discovered in graduate school that she was 1/124th
Cherokee-Ojibwa-Dakota which is why she added Miller to her surname. For some
reason, Starlene did not like this suggestion one iota and yelled, “Don’t even
get me started about Ms. PMS.” I guess I have to take a mea culpa for that smooth
move. Trying to lump different women of color together is probably a colonial
tendency I’ve inherited from my ancestors who were stowaways on The Mayflower. Starlene’s newly discovered heritage
propelled her passionately into our Huckleberry
Finn debates. I asked the students to argue whether or not Red Rock High
should teach Huck Finn, given all the
controversy surrounding Twain’s novel. Starlene “killed it,” as they say in show
business. Given her newly found plataforma,
she alternated her presentation in English and Spanish which made her go over,
but I allowed it given the inspiration. Her face was painted black on one side
and white on the other to accentuate our divided nation. She was so composed
and comfortable in front of a group (and with her visual aids which were kind
of disturbing to some to be honest) that her preparation allowed her passion
for the topic to really come through.
Her work some of the most moving in a very talented class.
The other way I viewed Starlene’s journey was through her writing. I challenged her to work hard so her written skills could match her outstanding oral ability. One of her essays connected the ideals she found in Emerson’s essay “Self-Reliance” to her new experience of straddling two worlds: the USA and the Old Mexico. Her ideas were solid but her execution needed work. She expressed to me plainly that she wanted to learn and succeed in my course (Some of the parents think I give too few A’s and blame me for their kids not being on the honor roll); on every essay, Starlene wrote draft after draft and sought advice from her writing teachers. Her tenth grade teacher Lindsay Applewhite really loved her work and wrote glowing comments in purple ink on a draft Starlene left on my desk. When I asked Ms Applewhite about all that praise, she smiled and said “Isn’t Starlene wonderful?” She never said much about the essay though and I know Starlene’s father and Ms. Applewhite’s husband work together at Beddy Buyz mattresses. So that makes sense. It was amazing watching Starlene set her sights on her goal and pursue it. I’m sure you’ll see when you look over her application, you’ll see that focus and determination in so many arenas: art, dance, dog grooming, and dedication to her many communities. She ended up getting that A from me, not because I imagined her behind a podium or recreating KAE! in a college classroom. I gave it to Starlene because she earned it, through and through, push after push. She will do the same for your college or university. Of this, I am very certain.
It is my great honor to write this letter in support of this most qualified candidate.
Richard Fulton Winter
1998 Arizona Junior Humanities Excellence in Teaching Award—Honorable Mention
Class Sponsor of the Alternate Student CouncilAuthor of The Bard’s Gentle Graces (poetry chapbook)