Oh, Kim, our hearts are with your hearts.
First let me say that nobody in my class lost their home. We have several parents who are firefighters and first responders though. So we weren’t dealing with the kind of grief that many were facing, but we did have to overcome fear because fire ate a large part of our city and took many lives. Fire is already scary enough to Little Ones, but seeing it up close was truly terrifying.
Since we began the new school year just after the Carr Fire, we were doing stuff like writing our Classroom Social Contract. It wasn’t lost on me that a lot of the agreements the Little Ones wanted this year centered on safety, far more than in years past. So as teachers do, I focused on making our classroom a safe, loving place. They were also craving routine so I was extra careful to make sure our days followed a routine and that any changes were talked about well in advance.
My school is near a fire station so we’d often hear fire truck sirens throughout the day. Twenty three pairs of eyes would flash to mine, and I’d say, “It’s okay. They’re going to help someone. You’re safe. Your families are safe.” I don’t know how many weeks I had to say that, but eventually when a fire engine went by, I’d no longer had to say it because they were saying it to each other. Then one day they just stopped saying it altogether.
One practical thing that helped a lot was that our classroom got an air purifier through Donors Choose. We were inside for weeks on end because the air quality was so unhealthy even inside. Part of making a safe classroom was literally making the air within our walls safe to breathe. Within two hours of posting my Donors Choose project, it was fully funded. It meant a lot to me, to my students, and to their families that people cared enough about us to help in that way.
One wise thing our administrators did was to postpone all emergency drills. We couldn’t safely evacuate outside because of the poor air quality, but more importantly, we didn’t want to frighten children who had already lived through a harrowing summer.
I think the most important thing I did and do every day because it’s just part of what I do is that I greeted each student at the door with a hug or a high five and I told them I was glad to see them. Every afternoon I hugged or high fived them out the door and told them something good. That physical contact is so important, but it becomes paramount when walking through a tragedy together.
Hug your students. Hug each other. We love you, Paradise.
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