[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)