Stories of strong women: Students write about people who inspired them

For Women's History Month, high school English class writes about inspiring people close to their lives
2013-03-28T00:00:00Z Stories of strong women: Students write about people who inspired themCaroline Fioramanti Roman Tamayo Tom Maksvytis Wyatt Berger Dyoni Isom Special To The Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

The eight boys and four girls who make up my sophomore English class at Green Fields Country Day School, 6000 N. Camino de la Tierra, are a formidable bunch.

They are varying degrees of strong, funny, worried, angry, daring, sensitive and more.

I chose a yearlong theme of "madness" for this class, reasoning that the theme works well with the developmental age of 16, with all the accompanying questions aimed at the craziness of society and the struggle to fit in.

After reading "The Glass Menagerie," "Paul's Case," "The Catcher in the Rye" and "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," an issue was raised in the class: one student argued that there are few complex, strong or just plain "good" female characters in these texts.

So we embarked on an assignment that assessed the presence of women in our curriculum. We analyzed the texts we had studied over the last five years in school. For this group, seven of the 35 novels read in class had female protagonists or had been written by women. We looked at stories about women and assessed their universal appeal. We critiqued the Hollywood film industry and its standards for "chick flicks," as well as the roles available for female actors.

Finally, we found photographs and stories of women from all over the world and we gave them voices, attributing dialogue to their untold stories.

So the students set out to interview a woman who has had an impact on them, or who has a story that just needs telling. Here are four of their pieces.

My mother gave birth at 18 and from then on, studied, worked hard to make our lives better

My mother has had a very interesting but fulfilling life. Growing up and having given birth to me at 18 years old could not have been easy. Along with having a child, she was working two jobs and attending college to receive her bachelor's degree. Even with all the struggles, she pulled through with success.

Growing up I was naive. I did not understand the challenges that lie ahead for every individual, let alone a mother. My mom was a young, confident lady and ready to take on the world, just like many other young ladies, but she hit a very pivotal point in her life when she turned 18 and had a child. From that day on, she has been committed to being a great role model and to making good decisions for herself and for me.

She first started to do that by going to college. Ten years ago, not many single parents had the opportunity to go to college because they had to take care of their child. Luckily, she had parents to help raise me and instill her with parenting philosophies.

My mother's perspective of her world changed greatly as she aged. She went from being young and feeling like she could conquer the world to being more real and practical. While dealing with this change, she always had her son as a reminder to always try to make life better.

Going through life trying to make good choices and striving to be the best she could be, my mother always had role models. One, Morenci Clark Pitts, taught my mother independence, acceptance and how to be logical in just about any situation. Another of her role models is Jill Hall Mroz, or as my mom likes to call her, Superwoman. Jill is everything my mother hopes to be: a leader and a brutally honest friend. She is ambitious, courageous, professional, imperfect and an individual.

Both of her role models have helped my mom through many struggles and have kept her on the right path to success.

Teacher succeded in a male field

Mrs. Kimberly King is the life science teacher at Green Fields and one of our best teachers. She is the only professional scientist I have ever known. She is one of the few women in a male-dominated field of research, but that has not stopped her from pursuing a career in laboratory and educational science. Being the first in her family to graduate high school and go on to a higher education gave her the motivation to strive for excellence.

Mrs. King graduated from the university and worked in the Peace Corps on the small island of Cape Verde, as well as holding various positions at the United Nations.

Science today is predominantly a male field. A career in biology is already competitive enough and having to go up against male competitors who are just as qualified can make things far more difficult. In our interview, Mrs. King told me that her fellow scientists were male, with the exception of one or two, and she was one of very few women at the UN who was not a secretary.

Even in the scientific field, she had to prove to others that she was just as capable a scholar as anyone else. Her hard work has earned her many well-respected positions, including the one at our school.

She did not want to fit the female teacher stereotype, so one of the things she does is lead groups of students on grueling and challenging across-nation service trips.

Mrs. King is definitely not a stereotypical teacher. Her ability to connect to students and have them understand the material and enjoy the learning experience is what makes her an important part of our school. She proves that regardless of what someone is up against, there is a way to succeed, just as she has.

Grandma was first 'flying court reporter'

"If adopted female born January 27, 1924, in Omaha wishes to contact natural mother's relatives, write Box-0765, Omaha World-Herald."

This is the ad my grandmother Dorothea Pharris read in 1977 before dropping the newspaper's classifieds page. Although her maiden name was Dorothea Kulb, she was never aware she was the adopted daughter of Omaha, Neb., farmers Homer and Sadie Kulb until she was 19 years old.

She was born Eileen Bell Ferris to Jesse and Mabel Ferris in Omaha. She was given up for adoption because her parents were going through a divorce, and Mabel could not care for another child as she already had an older son named Robert.

After Eileen was adopted, Mabel eventually tried to regain custody of her daughter, but was unsuccessful.

After her birth mother died, Dorothea's aunt and brother placed an ad in the Omaha World-Herald, and they found her. By that time Dorothea had become a court reporter and created her own business, Court Reporters Associates. She also earned a pilot's license in 1970 and dubbed herself "the first flying court reporter in the United States," an impressive feat for a woman in the 1970s.

My grandmother was a quirky woman who always said cheesy things like "dapper looking" and "wingding of a dinner," something I remember as a kid. I always liked the things she displayed in her old house, and I own some of her things now, like her lamps, mirrors and bed. We were never very close, even when she lived in Tucson, and I deeply regret it, especially after her death last year.

I would have loved to hear stories about her early life as a farm girl and my deceased grandfather, but from the help of letters from her aunt's search and her court reporting days, I have access to her life in a book that she compiled that I'd had no idea about. I will always keep her stories alive, even though she is long gone, and I think she is a perfect model for Women's History Month.

Mom's tenacity,

life struggles inspire me

Angela Valenzuela is my mother, and she has had a huge impact on my life. For many years she raised me on her own and because of this, I didn't think I would learn anything new from this interview, but I did.

I was curious as to how she felt about growing up without a father, since mine is barely in my life. She said that when she was younger, it didn't really matter, but when she was older she realized how important a father was and tried so hard to make my father an active part of my life.

She was in her senior year of college when she became pregnant with me. Most of her family encouraged her to drop out and wait until she had me to start graduate school. However, since she was the first in her family to go to college, the more people discouraged her, the more determined she became to continue school and to raise me. She accomplished this goal through support and by being very organized.

Things changed when we moved from Cleveland, Ohio, to Tucson. My father was no longer a part of her life, and since there was no family in Tucson for support, things got difficult.

With her degree in art therapy (she always had a love for the arts and was interested in human motivations), my mom has had various jobs in Tucson. She was a therapist at City High School, the program director at Youth on Their Own, and is now the education and training resource coordinator at Sewa Uusim, a behavioral health organization that works with youth and families in the Pascua Yaqui Tribe to promote wellness.

This is not where she thought she'd be. At my age, she always expected to be rich and famous; she had talent but never pursued fame out of lack of confidence. Now her job has less to do with art therapy and more to do with administrative work. Despite that, she is happy with her job, her life and her family. While she has some financial struggles, she has come a long way from growing up in a family on welfare, standing in line to get free cheese.

While my mom's story is personal to me, it is universal to all. Women everywhere struggle to make a life for their children and for themselves. While my mother is only one of these women, her story has helped me to understand and appreciate the determination and struggle a woman goes through for her child.

Editor's note

For Women's History Month, Caroline Fioramanti's sophomore English class was assigned to write about strong women in their lives. Here are excerpts of some of their stories, along with a description of the assignment by Fioramanti.

Caroline Fioramanti teaches sixth grade humanities and freshman and sophomore English at Green Fields Country Day School, an independent K-12 college prep school.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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