CTA & You

Paradise Educators: Hope & Resilience

Educator survivors of California wildfires over the past few years come together to heal

On Feb. 2, CTA hosted “Teachers Thrive Together,” which brought Paradise educators who suffered through the recent Camp Fire together with educators who survived devastating wildfires in Santa Rosa and Middletown. Held in a Chico gym, the gathering was a time for sharing stories, comfort and caring. 

Attendees sat informally in a circle and shared key moments, such as when they realized they’d lost all personal and professional possessions and nearly their lives. The fallout included not remembering common words, like “coffee” and “salt.” They also spoke about what did or did not help in their recovery, and offered resources and ideas on how to help traumatized colleagues.

Tamsen Nash (Cobb/Middletown fire), TAP President David Smith (Camp Fire) and Nancy Blair (Santa Rosa fire) listen to SRTA President Will Lyon share lessons learned.

Paradise teachers said the love of colleagues and the generosity of the education community have been and continue to be overwhelming. CTA members continue fundraising efforts and support for Paradise area educators (gofundme.com/camp-fire-paradise-teachers), many of whom now teach in makeshift schools and classrooms.

“Teachers have done an amazing job adapting to their new teaching spaces and preparing for their students,” said David Smith, president of the Teachers Association of Paradise (TAP). “They greatly appreciate all of the letters of encouragement and donations.”

He said teachers are struggling in more ways than they always want to admit. “Teachers’ new ‘classrooms’ aren’t their classrooms, and for those who have lost their home and are in new living situations, that isn’t truly their home. There’s still a lot of sadness and stress due to picking up the pieces of their lives, and frustration at the lack of support from our own district.”

Smith has been working with CTA leaders and staff to push for a bill that will secure state funding for the Paradise Unified School District at pre-fire Average Daily Attendance levels, which will avert educator layoffs for five years. “We believe that is the minimum amount of time it will take to rebuild the town of Paradise,” he said.

Thus far TAP and the district have not come to an agreement on additional hardship leave for teachers or compensation for extra work done by TAP members as a result of the Camp Fire. “Six other districts in Butte County have already completed agreements for hardship days,” said Smith, “but TAP is still negotiating language on something that is so minor in the scope of this massive, unprecedented disaster. This leaves our teachers feeling unsupported by their own employer.”

Despite this, teachers are persevering with and for their students.

Relief, and Ways to Give

The CTA Disaster Relief Fund has provided grants to 338 Paradise area teachers, and the CTA Chico Service Center Disaster Fund has distributed $350 Costco cash cards, totaling some $133,000, to members. Donations can be still be made by sending checks to CUTA Fire Relief, 819 East Fifth Ave., Chico, CA 95926.

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