Neighborhood children call her "Grandma Starr." But this summer, F. Lucille I. Starr has added 26 students from Spain to her ever-growing "family."
The teens, from 14 to 19 years old, are staying with families in Orem for eight weeks while they learn conversational English and take in American culture.It's Grandma Starr, a retired school teacher, who puts them through their paces in English four hours a day at Orem High School. And just as she did before retiring in Ohio after 40 years of teaching, she's going the second mile to help her "kids" learn to speak the language they've been studying in classrooms back home in Madrid, Valencia, the Basque provinces, the Canary Islands and other areas of Spain.
One thing that helps is the fact that Grandma Starr doesn't speak Spanish. If the students want to talk to her, they have to speak English. (In case of emergency, however, assistant teacher Teresa Corey is there; she served a Spanish-speaking LDS mission.)
When organizers of the Pacific Intercultural Exchange asked Starr to play a major part in this summer's project, "I tried to tell them they'd really like a younger teacher." But she's the one they wanted, and it's apparently a good match. "I'm having a ball," said the 64-year-old widow.
Her 26 charges are having a ball, too, as Starr brings in guest speakers from the community - a bank manager, a jeans designer, a football coach, the owner of a computer firm and others who give the students a taste of American life while giving them good experience in listening.
To see the American justice system at work, Starr and her students spent a day in court recently, listening to attorneys argue both sides of a drunken driving case involving a young man.
Their host families are including the Spanish students in special outings and even vacations, and Starr has made certain they see plenty of local attractions firsthand, too. The students and their hosts are enjoying special trips to the Utah Pageant of the Arts in American Fork, the Sundance Summer Theater, the Festival of the American West in Logan, a community theater production in Lindon, Lagoon and an all-star football game in Orem.
Shopping is a favorite activity for the visiting students, just as it is for American teens. The Spanish students have been especially happy to find Levi 501 jeans at prices much lower than they sell for in Spain.
"One of the things that's been fun for me is seeing that Spanish teens have the same likes, needs and desires that our kids do," said Starr.
Of course, she knew from experience that teens everywhere are pretty much the same. And anywhere she's taught, "I've always been the kind of teacher who loved my students and tried to go the second mile," she said.
While teaching in Ohio, she and a friend arranged for a Navy submarine to be brought up the Detroit River and docked in Detroit so her students could go aboard. Many times, her classes visited Ontario, Canada, across the border. They took airplane flights and bus trips, among other things.
Why? "Because I know that when somebody tastes something better than what they have, they never settle for mediocrity," she said. "They strive on."
Starr has done no small amount of striving herself. Her husband passed away in 1983, and she moved west in September 1985 to participate in the cardiac rehabilitation program at Utah Valley Regional Medical Center. The open-heart surgery she had soon after arriving was her 29th.
But having a "bad heart" doesn't seem to stop Grandma Starr. In fact, it's her good heart that keeps her involved in things like teaching intensive conversational English to teenagers from Spain.
Although she has 12 grandchildren of her own, Starr doesn't mind being called "Grandma" by numerous neighborhood children whose real grandparents live far away. "I consider it a compliment," she said.
Her "community grandchildren" often visit and even take phone messages for her in her absence.
The 26 Spanish students have adopted the young-at-heart Starr, as well. As one boy told her after class, "Grandma, you make it so fun!"