Sunday, October 11, 2009

Crash kills sign language teacher

Source Link - Crash kills sign language teacher

Melissa Wooden was on her way to work Friday morning, excited to be back in the classroom this fall and about her wedding engagement.

The deaf artist and high school American Sign Language teacher died in a two-vehicle collision on Highway 371. She was 30.

Wooden, a Little Falls resident, was remembered Friday as an easy-going and active teacher who made a point to reach out to her students and engage them. She was a part-time teacher at Brainerd High School.

"We definitely lost not only a great teacher, just an outstanding person," said Andrea Rusk, Brainerd High School principal. "She cared about kids."

Just as staff and students were expecting a day of homecoming activities, the news about Wooden's death filtered through the school.

"We definitely had our challenges here today," Rusk said.

Wooden enjoyed dance and art was important to her, Rusk said. Wooden attended Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., the internationally acclaimed school considered a leader in liberal education for deaf and hard-of-hearing students.

Wooden did her student teaching at Brainerd High and was a teacher in the district for several years. She was one of the teachers cut last year in an effort to reduce the budget. This fall, she came back part time.

Rusk said Wooden had a great relationship with her students.

"Because of her youth and because she is deaf herself, she went the extra mile to get to know her students," Rusk said.

By sharing her own life experiences Wooden helped students understand what it was like to be deaf, Rusk said.

"Melissa loved to play games," Rusk said. "She loved to have games in her classroom. It was a very active class. She had every student there moving and listening and watching.

"I can bet there is not one student who would not say wonderful things because she was so sweet. I think she just loved life. She was so excited to be back in the classroom this year."

Wooden was always willing to substitute teach or do anything the school district wanted or needed, Rusk said.

Wooden died Friday morning when the vehicle she was driving was involved in a two-vehicle crash at Highway 371 and Crow Wing County Road 48. Roads were wet after a lengthy rain in the area. Wooden was wearing a seat belt and the airbag deployed in the vehicle, the State Patrol reported.

Injured in the accident was Kip L. Dixon, 47, Brainerd. His injury was described in a Minnesota State Patrol report as non-life-threatening.

The collision was described as a sideswipe with Wooden's 1999 Dodge Durango, which was northbound on Highway 371, failing to yield for a red light, the State Patrol report stated. Wooden's vehicle was struck by Dixon's 2008 Chevy Suburban, which was southbound on 371 and making a left turn onto County Road 48. Wooden's vehicle then glanced off and struck a semaphore.