Miller, melissa

Melissa Miller

Judging by the reactions of students Carole Borkowski saw Saturday, the death of fifth-grade teacher Melissa L. Miller will have a profound affect on the Farrell school community.

Ms. Borkowski, the Farrell elementary principal, said she informed students who attended Saturday’s tutoring of the death of Ms. Miller, 35, of 439 Orchard Road, Lackawannock Township, who was killed Friday night in a single-vehicle crash in Hermitage. Some of the students who had Ms. Miller last year were so overcome by emotion that they were unable to stay for tutoring, she said.

“It’s devastating,” Ms. Borkowski said. “It’s so hard for them to understand. She shared her children with them. It’s like a family. She was an excellent teacher who will be missed by the students.”

The response was echoed at West Middlesex High School, where Ms. Miller led the volleyball team to a league championship this year, her first year, and ran the junior high program. West Middlesex school officials had counselors available Saturday for students who knew her.

“They were devastated,” athletic director Mike Williams said of her athletic charges. “Death is really something, it’s really tragic for kids to handle.”

Personally, “My heart’s broken,” Williams said.

The loss of Ms. Miller — who is survived by a daughter and two sons — is likely to be felt throughout the area.

Ms. Borkowski said Ms. Miller — who was known as Melissa Lewis when she was married — student taught at West Hill Elementary in Sharon in 1995; substituted from 1995 to 1997 in West Middlesex, Greenville, Reynolds, Grove City and Farrell schools; and was a wraparound for Community Counseling Center, Hermitage, in 1996 and 1997.

She was a standout volleyball and track athlete, and also played softball and basketball at West Middlesex High School, from which she graduated in 1991.

Ms. Miller kept her athletic interests going past her scholastic days as a coach. She had coached varsity and/or junior varsity volleyball and basketball at Thiel College in Greenville, and Reynolds and West Middlesex school districts.

Williams said he had a great relationship with Ms. Miller, and always knew she would do the right thing. She also connected with her players, traversing the territory between friend and mentor, he said.

“She was young enough that the kids could relate to her, but old enough that they weren’t going to pull anything over on her,” he said. “She definitely was a wonderful coach, no-nonsense, give respect in order to get respect, and the kids really responded to that.”

Ms. Miller was hired as a full-time teacher in Farrell in 2000.

“We obviously are deeply saddened by the event,” said Farrell Acting Superintendent Lawrence Connelly. “We plan to have counselors available at the school for both the teachers and students.”

Counselors, psychologists and clergy members will be on hand Monday to talk with students and staff members, Ms. Borkowski said. Farrell staff members will be informed of the plans at a meeting today, she said.

In addition to Farrell school staff members, Mercer County Behavioral Health Commission will send a crisis team, Sharon schools Superintendent John Sarandrea and Hermitage Superintendent Karen A. Ionta are sending counselors, and Farrell High School principal Lora Adams-King, an ordained minister, arranged to have clergy members available for anyone who wants to talk, Ms. Borkowski said. Ms. Miller’s pastor, the Rev. David Wayne Hunt of United Presbyterian Church in Greenfield, will be on hand.

Administrators also have called in extra substitute teachers to help the staff teachers touched by Ms. Miller’s death.

“We’re here to support students and staff,” Ms. Borkowski said.

The families of students will be receiving letters informing them of Ms. Miller’s death and what help is available to anyone having trouble dealing with the loss, Ms. Borkowski said.

Williams said counselors will be back at West Middlesex Monday.

Ms. Miller was thrown from her rolling sport-utility vehicle at 9:48 p.m. Friday on the Shenango Valley Freeway, west of Maple Drive, Hermitage police said.

Ms. Miller, a Sharon native, lost control of the eastbound SUV on an icy patch, police said. The SUV hit an embankment and rolled several times, police said.

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