Rose worked at high school from 1996 to 1998

Sadness swept over Big Sky High School this week when word that Mike Rose, a former teacher's aide and substitute teacher, died Monday.

Rose was part of a research expedition that was returning from Isla Cabeza de Caballo, a remote island off the U.S.-Mexico border, after wrapping up a day of ongoing scorpion and spider studies. According to California news reports, unexpected winds of 30 mph created 6-foot waves that capsized the 22-foot inflatable boat he was riding in. Rose and four other passengers drowned in the accident.

One of the survivors said Rose gave his life helping to save others on the expedition.

On Friday, several of Rose's former students and co-workers at Big Sky gathered to remember him and share stories about how he touched their lives.

He was to them a gifted teacher, mentor and exceptional person.

"He was young and had no experience working with special-needs students, but after interviewing him, I remember saying: 'I think we have a good one,' " said WyAnn Northrop, a special education teacher at Big Sky. "We hired Mike immediately because he made this statement in his interview: 'Everybody deserves to be treated with dignity and respect,' " said Sally Ebel, department chairperson of Big Sky's special services.

A graduate of Vanderbilt University, Rose worked at Big Sky from September 1996 until June 1998. He came to Missoula with his wife, Susan, who was pursuing her doctorate at the University of Montana.

He was hired to work with a wide range of special needs students - from children with autism to the emotionally disturbed, Ebel said. And because of his background in science and his knack for making difficult concepts easy to understand, Rose taught science and math to mainstream students.

"He had a great personality," said Ian Opheim, a junior at Big Sky. "A lot of teachers can get kind of edgy and get a little cranky if you don't get something. I realized he was special when I was having problems with my math - it wasn't clicking. He didn't get angry. We spent the whole period on one math problem, and after that it was easy."

For junior Krista Zachariasen, Rose helped to ease her anxiety when she made the transition from middle school to high school.

"I had a really hard time being a newcomer - not knowing anybody here," she said. "He made it easier. He was easy to talk to."

Choking back tears, junior Yong Moua said he will never forget Rose's kindness.

"He was really a wonderful guy," he said. "He helped me with my math and he was always really friendly. He was different from other teachers because he seemed to really care about you."

All of the students said they were touched by Rose's ability to get everyone excited about science.

"He was using college-level research techniques, and these kids were getting it," said Susan Rushe, a Big Sky resource teacher. "He had a way of presenting material in a way they could understand. … It was awesome to watch him work."

Perhaps Rose's most remarkable legacy is the gift of joke-telling he gave to an autistic student, Ebel said.

"He worked with this student every day, and the student never got the joke," she said. "Mike would explain it over and over. And then the student began to understand it. Then the student began to bring a joke to Mike every day. Mike worked with him on his affect and how to present a joke."

"It's phenomenal, the changes in this young man," Rushe said. Because of Rose's one-on-one tutoring, the student now tells jokes. "He's become more confident to speak up in class and to be part of the group in general."

Rose earned his master's degree in biology from Northern Arizona University, where he also received the Outstanding Graduate Teaching Assistant award.

He was a technician and postgraduate researcher in the University of California-Davis Department of Environmental Science and Policy at the time of his death.

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