We have been officially “back in school” for three weeks after the #campfire chaos. This is the recovery stage, we are told. But most people don’t realize what “school” really looks like for our Paradise Intermediate and Paradise High School kids. There is no routine, no normal, nothing that really resembles what we used to know. The fire has displaced the schools and scattered us in a neighboring town where we don’t have a home, just a rented storefront to use for online learning for a month. This is how we are ending our semester.
To begin with, we are located at the Chico Mall. Yes- the mall! About 30 of my middle school staff members are in a “one room schoolhouse.” Our special ed teachers are at the fairgrounds and churches, while two of our general ed teachers are isolated in upper Magalia, above Paradise where houses still stand. For those at the mall, we share a room with our administrators, secretary, aide, and counselor. It’s a one-stop-shop: three grades, three corners of the room to make our own.
Each grade level has staked out a wall. The 6th grade teachers are the most organized,. There were close to 150 sixth graders before the fire, 5 classes of Evergreen and Creekside programs; now one class remains. Everyday they take about 30 sixth graders on another learning adventure- to Chico State science labs, to the gym, to the farm, on hikes, etc. . . The 6th grade classrooms may have burned in the blaze, but the teachers continue to lead the way.
Seventh and eighth grade teachers have decorated our own walls. We sit at our tables and tutor any students who get dropped off at the mall. Many of the staff lost their homes, and have faced the challenge of starting life anew. Other teachers who lived in nearby towns, like myself, have taken on some unusual roles. I imagine it’s like being a cruise director: planning daily trips abroad, setting up arts and crafts and hands-on science activities, and giving a listening ear to students and parents who just need support. We have organized gym time, hikes, trips to museums, career education tours of restaurants, and holiday activities. Most importantly we have taught life skills, like how to ride the B-line city bus and how to walk IN a crosswalk.
When I first found out where we’d be at the mall for a month, I was bewildered and joked about it being our “one room schoolhouse”- but it’s been oddly therapeutic. We have time to make connections with the kids who can stop by. We have time for field trips and adventures in learning. We have quality time with our “regulars,” some students who spend most of the day with us, eat the bagged school lunches and ask us for “field trips” to walk around the mall.
But this life in limbo also has a lot of worries: not all students are actively doing online learning. While our adventures on the road have been priceless, I worry about keeping ALL students connected and I worry that our kids will fall further behind if we can’t reach them and help them get the skills they need. Most of all, I worry about being in limbo with no site announced for our middle school. How could we go from about 600 students on November 8th to about 250 students now? How many will remain in the new year? Our mall location is only temporary. As the holiday break begins, all other Paradise schools have landed new sites, and our staff is left to wonder, what’s next for us? If we don’t have a building to conduct school, will we lose our students to other teachers and schools who do have a stable environment?
Can we really recover? I am beginning to question this as well.