Report from the Paradise Camp Fire

By: Barry Scott, NEED State Program Director in CA

When NEED heard about the devastating fires in California we thought about the many teachers we know in and around Paradise, California, and our Teacher Advisory Board member, Greg Holman, and his family and fellow teachers.  After the teachers and students had a chance to get settled into new temporary surroundings in nearby Chico and Durham, I went up to lend a hand.



Learning never ends

Following the evacuation from and loss of practically every school building in Paradise, the school district mobilized to find alternative ways to stay engaged with students and families by creating remote call centers wherever space could be found.  The Paradise Unified School District administration moved to a small converted shipping container on the Durham Unified campus, and Greg’s team from Paradise Intermediate set up shop in an empty store front at the Chico Mall.  Other schools found similar temporary homes so that all teaching staff remain employed and all students remain engaged in school work.

12 Days of Christmas

Starting on December 4, 2018, the four teachers of Paradise Intermediate’s Creekside and Evergreen 6th grade academies vowed to not just check in with students once a day to provide homework, rather, they committed to serve students with activities or field trips from 9am to 3pm every single day through Christmas break, preserving the continuity of education and keeping the young students engaged in school.  This also became a way to make sure families are doing OK in terms of food and shelter, etc.  Some were still in tents or campers or on the floors of homes willing to take them in.  Monday was spent at the historic Patrick Ranch in Durham where a naturalist, Greg’s mom Jan Holman, worked with half the kids while I facilitated hands-on science with the other half before rotating.

Hands on fun in more ways than one!

NEED sent boxes of science kits to use that day and for Greg and his teaching partner, Pat Snyder, to use to restock what was lost in the fire.  This included NEED wind energy kits and turbines and additional activities, enough to fill the day easily and to be reused again and again. The STEM lessons integral to the wind kits are really engaging and fun.  Students investigate different design factors that can influence power output of their turbines.  Blade pitch and the number of blades are among design factors to be tested. In addition to the kits, we brought along yellow smiley face stress balls and fidget spinners.  These were brought by request as these student have lost all of their toys and belongings and they asked specifically for these things to keep their hands busy.  The students were bubbling with excitement, so much so they didn’t even notice the camera crew that showed up later…

…Ron who?!

The name Ron Howard is known to those of us past a certain age but not to a bunch of 6th graders (unless you’re a 6th grader who has taken his MasterClass Director course, like Greg Holman’s daughter Abigail!).  When we heard a rumor that Ron Howard (aka Opie Taylor – aka Richie Cunningham – aka director of epic films like Apollo 13 and A Beautiful Mind) might drop by, we all got excited knowing that a capable and caring director was interested in telling the story of what is happening in this community.  Mr. Howard spent more than an hour on site, quietly sitting next to students and letting them share what they’re feeling while he held his shoulder mounted camera, with another separate crew in the background.  Students carried on with their work as they had no idea who was in the room and were unfazed by the famous visitor and his crew.

Paradise will rise again!

Our tour of the town was just over a month after the fire occurred and there’s been a lot of change.  The rains brought bright green grassy areas and some shoots around those trees that weren’t killed.  The streets are cleared of fallen trees and abandoned cars, new guard rails line the Skyway where so many people feared for their lives, and the signals are working and the public is allowed back in.  Most buildings are gone, but some are still there and a handful of stores look open for business.  A couple of new cities have sprung up, utility workers from across the nation have converged to assist local companies in this effort to restore service and infrastructure. It’s not recovery but it’s encouraging.

Considering how resilient and dedicated the citizens of Durham and Chico and Paradise are, and all the other nearby cities that are part of the support system, it’s hard to imagine Paradise not coming back stronger than ever.

What makes a hero?

The part that chokes us up the most is hearing from Greg how the day went when Paradise caught on fire.  Greg’s wife is a teacher, too, and the call for evacuation came before first period began.  Like a captain on a ship, teachers are duty bound to stay with their students until all are safe, even if their own lives are endangered.  This was such a day and doubly so for Greg, because he’s also a member of the Durham volunteer fire crew and as soon as the kids were off and safe he went into fireman mode, as did every regular and volunteer company in the county and beyond.  His wife was in a different part of town and he tried to stay in constant contact with her.  As his scanner described where fires were worst and which roads were on fire (they were all on fire) he lost contact with her.  Can you imagine?

I drove with Greg the following day along the route that his wife had taken, trying to imagine being stuck in a parking lot of cars barely moving while flames get worse and worse. The Holmans are both heroes, and so is every student we had the privilege of serving.