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Hurt but not forgotten

A seriously injured teacher gets an outpouring of support from students and teachers at his school.

April 21, 2007|By Rachel Kane

Teachers, staff and students at Luther Burbank Middle School are doing all they can to support special education teacher Dan Wentz since a cycling accident in January left him with brain damage and a long road to recovery.

He was out for a ride near Griffith Park when he was struck by a car and flung from his bike.

And though he has been away from his students and fellow staff members at Luther Middle School to convalesce for a large chunk of the semester, no one has forgotten him.

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Especially not seven of his former students who participated in a talent show at school on Thursday night to raise money for Wentz and his family.

"They were amazing," Principal Anita Schackman said. "They sang, 'Lean on Me'. They were so precious, it brought tears to my eyes."

The students, now freshmen at Burbank High School in the special education program, have an understanding of Wentz being hurt, but most have not grasped the magnitude of his injuries, said Dana Shorten, special day class teacher at Burbank High.

"They still miss him," Shorten said. "But some of them don't understand the depth of what's happened."

To offset the financial burden on his family, faculty members have donated more than 100 sick days to him in a fund outside of the usual catastrophic leave bank that teachers normally donate days to for other educators in need, Schackman said.

The seven former students have also started a fundraising initiative for Wentz's family and have raised more than $160 so far.

"We have a very, very close-knit group in this class," Shorten said. "The kids love him."

Thursday night's talent show produced $265 from a collection plate passed around the audience and at least another $1,500 from the door, she said.

"We knew they would be facing some financial challenges," she said.

School administrators and the small group of students as well as the students at Burbank Luther Middle School who are missing Wentz are dedicated to providing as much fiscal and spiritual aid to him as they can while he undergoes physical therapy, she said.

"[The district] gets reports periodically from Luther about his condition and apparently he's doing better," school board President Ted Bunch said. "In the last one I heard he was able to start receiving visitors from the school."

While Wentz is far from fit and healthy, friends, family and colleagues are holding out hope that he will some day be able to return to teaching.

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