One of my definitions of a mature student is one who can learn deeply in one area of his or her life and apply that learning to other areas. Wyatt Frame is one of those mature students. I have seen the ways he takes the focus, dedication, and discipline learned from his passion, falconry (the sport of kings!), and apply it to a rigorous academic course load, his writing, athletics, and his other love, architecture. He is one of the most fascinating and complex students we have here at Red Rock High School. With Wyatt, you will be getting far more than your run-of-the-mill undergrad; Wyatt will add depth and richness to your campus that will not go unnoticed by faculty and students alike. Plus, he’ll probably bring his falcon, unless it dies.
I was fortunate enough to have Wyatt in my American Literature course last year. The first book we studied was Frank Conroy’s pivotal memoir, Stop-Time. I assigned the students a personal narrative that focuses on one illuminating scene in their lives and, in addition, a process essay that compares their use of craft and technique to Conroy’s. As you know from reading college essays (yawn!), many students struggle with finding one revealing moment from their lives (not another game-winning goal, oh no!). Not Wyatt. Like a hawk (pun intended), he zeroed in on a moment where he had to trap a red-tailed hawk as part of his commitment to falconry. Wyatt’s writing was precise, visual, detailed, and showed me in those first few weeks what kind of student he was.
With Wyatt, I may have committed a rare error in terms of overpraise. On most student work, I try to balance compliments and strong advice for revision. Since Wyatt was a bit of an odd bird (ha!), I really concentrated on praise. I went on and on about falconry, how cool it was, how rare for a high schooler to hang out with bearded men, and how much I enjoyed reading about a pastime referenced as sexual innuendo in The Bard’s Taming of the Shrew: “My falcon now is sharp and passing empty/And, till she stoop, she must not be full gorged.” I probably gave him a higher grade than he deserved, but again, I was trying to welcome a quiet kid with slightly wolfish eyes into the fold.
I returned the essays on a Monday, two weeks to the day after I received them (personal policy and addressing the number one student complaint of teachers=handing back work late). On that Wednesday, Wyatt came into the class with his falcon (red tailed hawks can also be referred to as falcons fyi). At first, the class was pretty jazzed about having such a regal creature near the pencil sharpener (present company excepted of course, ha!). I was, too, but then the feathered beast flapped its wings and I had one of those rare epiphanies: my classroom’s ceiling is rather low. I hadn’t really noticed before but compared to, say, Mr. Fine’s class, mine is a good two feet lower. I think his section of the building was built at a different time. Probably later since it’s far nicer and doesn’t smell like smoldering fiberglass. Anyway, the bird’s wingspan made me feel as if the sky was crouching down upon me. I’ve had panic attacks before—all teachers do—but this was different. The bird had on a little hood, so I guess it wouldn’t panic during transport. I’m not really sure; it’s only a guess. Too late to ask Wyatt. The other students wanted to pet the bird, but Wyatt kept requesting that they keep calm and be quiet, but later Dennis said no one could hear Wyatt and besides, “The dude like never speaks so no one paid any attention to his, like, you know, words.” That’s a direct quote. I wrote it down for the hearing.
In hindsight, things got pretty hectic pretty quickly. Students were unpacking books, hugging, passing food and gawking at the birds’ talons and the leather sleeve and tether Wyatt had on his arm. I was trying to take attendance promptly (as mandated by the district), accept late work, and marvel at the majestic nature of the hawk/falcon. I think Wyatt was trying to catch my eye to maybe acknowledge that he brought the quarry in to show me? One of my rules is that all students place their cell phones on their desks in front of them after they turn them off. It’s not a perfect system; kids lie that they left theirs at home and still try to text clandestinely; some forget to power the mobile devices all the way down. No one has brought in one of those dummy phones from the store displays to trick me, but I suspect that’ll be next.
On the day of the falcon episode, just as Wyatt was removing the bird’s hood, the girl sitting next to Wyatt, Albany’s, phone rang and her tone sounds exactly like a fire alarm. She said at the hearing it was supposed to be “ironical”, not disruptive. The bird freaked out and started flying around the room, still attached to the tether. Almost like one of those toy helicopters you see at the Red Rock mall, only bigger, more frightening, and less mechanical. I’ve seen all sorts of panic here at RRHS, including lockdowns where kids try to jump the fence so they won’t have to pee in a garbage can after 4 hours trapped inside, but you’ve never seen chaos like a red tailed hawk whirring around a crowded classroom. I can still hear the whooshing of the feathered fingers of its wings sometimes late at night. Almost feel them brushing my cheek. The kids started screaming (the girls’ sounded more like screeching), all trying to get through the door or jump out the window (it’s ok: we’re on the ground floor). Stephen threw a pile of graded essays at the blur as it flew into his widow’s peak. Of course, the blizzard of white got the hawk/falcon even more agitated and, in turn, Wyatt as well, who then started yelling “Shit the f*ck up! Shit the f*ck up!” He meant to use the word shut but was so upset, he got a little Tourettesy. It was what my friend and colleague Noah would later call “a royal shitshow” both literally and figuratively. The fowl managed to cut a few kids with its talons (mostly on the scalp, one or two on the neck). In its most panicked state, the hawk/falcon also let loose its bowels so the guano came out like crème fraiche squeezed from a pastry bag (I’m a bit of a foodie). This did not sit well with the students who hadn’t managed to escape. I knew security was on its way, and I didn’t want them to tase the poor bird so I did something I rarely do: I yelled. “Wyatt, goddamit, do something!” You know that scene in Blazing Saddles where Mongo hits his horse? Wyatt did the same thing with his hawk/falcon. He sorta decked the raven. The thing was stunned long enough so that Wyatt could slip the Dutch hood on, pin its wings and run out of class, leaving his backpack and cell phone behind.
By the time security showed up, the classroom looked like a Trenton crime scene. Papers, cell phones, and handouts of early American poetry were strewn everywhere, mixed with bird feces, spilled coffee and some sparkly pink nail polish Albany had started to unscrew when the whole deal went down. I recall seeing the name Edgar Allen Poe in bold then something akin to blood.
“Did I hear something about a live vulture up in here?” Mel, head of security, not my favorite colleague (I consider faculty AND staff all colleagues) asked me in a tone I did not appreciate. After all, I didn’t invite Wyatt’s hawk/falcon into school, I just showed interest in his extracurricular activity like I do with my other students who dance, play sports, or sell Shakelee products. I believe, still, even after the dozens of emails, two formal hearings, threatened lawsuits, visits from the school nurse to install a EMT-grade first aid kit, and the humane society (via an entrée from our animal-loving art teacher Ms. Frastick), and the unfortunate transfer of Wyatt to the Alternative Learning Academy that showing interest in students in and out of class is a top priority for any educator.
My father would say, “still waters run deep”, but Wyatt is more than that. I believe that he will make a great candidate for your college or university.
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 Council
Author of The Bard’s Gentle Graces (poetry chapbook)