In the world of deaf education, Amy Hile had a profound impact.
Her sudden death from a pulmonary embolism on June 15 has been felt throughout the deaf community where she was known as a passionate educator, committed to learning and language acquisition for deaf, hard-of-hearing and deafblind children.
"As a pioneer in the bilingual education field and as a teacher deeply committed to teaching and research, Amy was an extraordinary leader in the field," said Roberta J. Cordano, president of Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., where Hile was an associate professor. "She was a strong advocate for bilingual education all over the United States and world."
Hile, 48, a deaf person herself, lived most recently in Annapolis, Md. She was born in Edina, attended the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf in Faribault and the Model Secondary School for the Deaf in Washington, D.C.
She graduated from Gallaudet in 1991, taught at the University of Minnesota for two years, and became one of the founding teachers of the newly established Metro Deaf School in St. Paul, the first bilingual charter school in the United States for deaf and hard-of-hearing students.
"That school's philosophy put a very strong emphasis on the use of American Sign Language (ASL) as the primary language for instruction that builds the bridge to the English language," said Timothy Hile, her brother. "That practice started being implemented in different schools and became a model for other schools for the deaf and day programs for deaf and hard-of-hearing students."
Timothy Hile is also deaf and is a curriculum specialist at California School for the Deaf, Riverside.
"Amy's emphasis was that every child has a right to learn and have equal access to information, and if there was a barrier, it means there was something wrong with the method of teaching," he said.
She believed teaching with ASL, which has its own grammar, structure and rules, was best for her students' cognitive and social development, he said. She also understood that there are some hard-of-hearing students whose hearing loss doesn't require them to use sign language and some who have some hearing capability but need sign language support.
"She was a trailblazer for bilingual education," said Melissa Sweetmilk, dean of students at Metro Deaf School. Deaf education used to focus on the oral approach, speaking English, she said. "Studies showed that when deaf and hard-of-hearing children are taught ASL and English at the same time, their reading and language takes off."
Amy Hile got a doctorate from the University of Colorado at Boulder and joined the faculty of Gallaudet's department of education in 2006. She was project director of a U.S. Department of Education grant aimed at training teachers to serve culturally and linguistically diverse deaf students.
"She would go around the country consulting for deaf schools and teaching teachers of deaf children about American Sign Language," said Dave Hile, her uncle.
Her parents, Michael and Susan Hile, live in Spring Lake Park.
"Amy's success in life is due to her heart," said her father, who also is deaf. "She was always there to help people, to support them."
Her aunt, Winnie Hile, noted that Amy had traveled to 27 countries.
"She had a ready smile, she was confident, and did not behave like she had a handicap," Winnie Hile said. "She was proud of who she was and very adventurous. … Being deaf did not stop her."
Local funeral services are pending.