The Band’s Breaking Up

Another Paradise teacher nailed it perfectly. Sitting in our last Mindfulness session, he tried to put into words how many of us were feeling as the end of the school year approached. It’s always bittersweet to say goodbye to students, but some of us won’t be returning to our school sites or to our teams of teachers when August rolls around again. As Jeff said, it’s like the band is breaking up.

Our band of teachers created some unforgettable music this year. Back in the fall, we were just warming up. Two schools had been merged to become one middle school and it had been a messy formation, pushed together suddenly, with everyone trying to get in tune. Then the Campfire happened on November 8th, and everything changed. We hit the road and what a wild tour it’s been. First staff meetings scattered throughout Chico, then online school at the mall, and finally landing at OSH, our hardware store away from our Paradise home. Now it’s time for our tour to come to an end

Last Hits: We had some final hits in the last weeks. Sixth grade teachers led camping trips and long hikes, while seventh and eighth graders went to the local theater for movies and popcorn. Paradise Intermediate and Pine Ridge School students reunited: 7th grade came together for a skating and miniature golf field trip at CalSkate,  while 8th grade joined for an end of year picnic, awards night, and a semi-formal dance at the Lakeside Pavilion. With our school, our town still lacking water and surrounded by burned out rubble, there would be no celebrations in our school multi-purpose room or gym this year. 

Backstage: Emotions were mixed as summer approached. Some students were on edge with flashes of attitude.  Others became silly with friends or developed a sudden hearing loss as they chased each other around the warehouse, and couldn’t seem to hear staff directions to walk. Some became clingy, holding on to each other and reaching out to teachers. When emotions became heated, one-on-one talks gave insight to the truth. Simple questions like “Where are you going to school next year?” or “Where are you living right now?” elicited students’ real feelings. One boy still  living in a motel by the freeway, couldn’t go outside to ride a bike or play soccer, and worried about being bored with video games and no friends or school nearby to take his mind off reality. Another student recently moved into a house, wouldn’t be returning with friends to Paradise next year, but would be the new kid in a new town on his own. Another dissolved into tears, not sure why, just feeling “stressed” and needing to be comforted.  And after more than 50 years as a junior high, our school will be transformed into an elementary for the schools that burned. More than just the end of the school year, it was the end of Paradise Intermediate School for all.

Wrapping Up: With our 8th grade students and staff celebrating promotion in Magalia above Paradise, Team 7 closed the final day with reflection and unity. Post-it notes shared “Who listened to me,” or “Who made me laugh,” then “My worries for next year,” and “What I’m excited about for next year.” Gathered later in the increasingly warm warehouse with about sixty students and staff, we tossed a ball to each other and called out closing words of appreciation and friendship. Our last day of school concluded with games and our end-of-year jousting battle.  After signing yearbooks, and giving hugs, we greeted parents and sadly waved farewell as our students walked out the automatic doors of OSH one final time.

Solo Projects: I spent weekends in May packing up my belongings in my Paradise classroom that I’ll never return to. At OSH, Sherry and I reluctantly dismantled our English aisle 14 and began the goodbyes. The team I have leaned on, wiped away tears with, hugged and laughed with together, is flying in different directions.  Some will move to Paradise High to continue our legacy with the returning 7th and 8th graders, a few are moving out of the area or going to schools in nearby towns, then some are retiring and starting new adventures. And I’m hitting the road for a solo project.  After 16 years of commuting up Skyway to Paradise, I will be teaching in Chico, a five minute drive from my house, so close I can ride my bike on clear days.  I’ll follow some of our Paradise students and nervously we’ll be the new kids at Marsh Junior High School next fall. The end of an era. . . . and a new beginning . . .

The End of the Tour: With the tour wrapping up, we spent our last day in OSH packing up our supplies, and letting loose. Heather raced up and down the aisles with Marc holding on tightly in the shopping cart. The PE teachers, Kristy and Jess, pumped up the music and we danced and shuffled to the beats as our principal Larry skated through on a scooter. Mike tossed the beach ball and we made it bounce above the aisles.  Then a nerf football went flying as staff played an impromptu football game and the music played on amidst the shouts and laughter and glimpses of tears.  The time had come for the band to break up. It’s been a great ride and I don’t want to face the end. But great bands don’t burn out, the hits play on. And who knows, time may pass and friends may scatter, but there’s always the reunion tour . . . . right? The band may be breaking up, but the memories will live forever!

Thank you to my bandmates for the inspiration, and to Jeff for helping with the words!

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Author: Erica Blaschke

I am a middle school English and technology teacher from Chico, CA and have traveled the Skyway to teach in Paradise for the past 16 years. A fast moving wildfire changed the lives of our entire community on November 8th when the #campfire destroyed the town. We are now redefining what school and learning can be as we start over, unable to return.

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