Friday, November 30, 2007

Stephanie Bernritter, 1968-2007

[Heroes] This beautiful soul is Stephanie Bernritter. She taught English and creative writing at Salt Lake City's West High School from 2002 until just a few days ago.



Ms. B, as we all knew her, died of complications from a long battle against leukemia on the night of Nov. 28. She was 39. Stephanie is survived by her husband Kevin, of Salt Lake City, relatives in Seattle (her hometown) and countless friends and proteges.

She is a warrior and a goddess. Fierce about good writing, loving toward all, this woman is the teacher you all hope your children will get. I know I did. Stephanie taught my daughter, now 19, and was her advisor when she co-edited WestWinds, the school's socko literary magazine. Beyond her passion for teaching, and her famous 15-minute "writing prompts," Stephanie helped with student clubs and athletics, including soccer coaching and advising the Gay Student Association. She headed up numerous poetry slams at coffee houses around Salt Lake City, where her students showcased their considerable talents.

My son was in her 11th-grade English class this year. She led him through The Grapes of Wrath with the usual reverence for John Steinbeck's literary talent, but she also got her students writing brief and beautiful essays about poverty, alienation and socialism.

I used to visit Stephanie's classes each year and talk about creative non-fiction. The students and I batted around ideas, discussed ways to narrate a story. I always told them how much they had to say and write, and how valuable their life stories are. This, in a world where too many adults in their lives dismiss them for their youth and inexperience. That, or they fear them, simply because they are teenagers.

None of this applies to Stephanie. She gave all of her students the power to live well and to write their truths. Dissing the state of public education is becoming a regular mantra these days. But it's fairly certain these critics never knew a teacher/a human being/a warrior like Stephanie Bernritter.

I just returned from a memorial service for Stephanie at West High. After a short video of her life and work shown in the library, the entire school gathered on the front lawn to send up balloons in her honor. We ended the service with a collective shout--what amounts to Ms. B's favorite expression: Right (or Write) On! (Holly Mullen)

8 comments:

  1. Chris at NorthwesternNovember 30, 2007 at 2:39 PM

    Holly, thank you so much. I wish more than anything I could come back to SLC today and celebrate this woman with the community that knew her, the community where her legacy thrives. But since I can't, your words help. A lot.

    As a former student of Stephanie's, I can testify to the power of her teaching and her lasting impact. I will never have a mentor as affecting.

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  2. Thanks, Chris. I thought of you and Kit and so many others today at the memorial for Stephanie. I thought of the hundreds of students she has influenced who are moving ahead in life and will always make her proud. Everyone's spirit was there--most of all, Stephanie's. And as she would want everyone to know, I am sure, "it's all good."-- Holly Mullen

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  3. Stephanie Bernritter was my creative writing teacher. I've never considered myself a writer but she always listened intently as if I was Maya Angelou. Standing in front of the class, I was always nervous but her smile made it seem so simple-like her. Her passion was infectious. I love you Ms. Bernritter!

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  4. Please Check out www.stephaniebernritter.com

    Thanks Pamela Dore Alford

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  5. Thank you for this amazing piece for Ms. B! She is so beautiful and taught me of my own beauty from within. She taught me how to open up and that it was ok to just let it out through poetry and perform it with passion. This woman has changed my life in so many amazing ways. Thank you Ms B i heart you dearly. We'll be together again when i get there...

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  6. Thank you for this amazing piece for Ms. B! She is so beautiful and taught me of my own beauty from within. She taught me how to open up and that it was ok to just let it out through poetry and perform it with passion. This woman has changed my life in so many amazing ways. Thank you Ms B i heart you dearly. We'll be together again when i get there...

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  7. Holly,
    thank you for saying such amazing things about this wonderful woman i miss so much.
    Stephanie was a saint among men. i would not have been the same person i am today without her in my life.
    i was able to go to her with any issue and she was always ready to help me resolve it. through pain sweat and tears she helped me grow and expand as a person. she was one of the few people who truly believed in me. she inspired me everyday to be a better person. i dont know if i will ever recover from loosing her. but i know i will do great things with my life in her name. god bless Stephanie Bernritter with endless love,
    Amie Szugye

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