School leaders from across Sacramento County announced a joint partnership Wednesday to provide support to Butte County schools in the wake of the deadly Camp Fire.
More than 32,000 students are returning to classes next week, and many of them have been displaced by the fire.
Several district officials and Sacramento County Superintendent David Gordon met with Tim Taylor, Butte County Superintendent of Schools, to discuss what could be done to provide emotional support to students as they return to school — many of them still without a home, school supplies or clothes.
“There is such an avalanche of help that is needed up there,” said Tim Herrera, Communications Director for the Sacramento County Office of Education.
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Gordon said the idea stemmed from his 25-year-long friendship with Taylor, who used to work in Sacramento County.
“We tend to know about the conventional needs things to do, but one of the most powerful things we can do with this is make a customized partnership and let them decide what will be helpful.” Gordon said.
Gordon said that while the details of the partnership are still being worked out, the idea is to have “sister schools” between a specific Sacramento County school and Butte County school so students can foster a meaningful relationship during the year. Students from the capital region would visit students affected by the fires, call them on Skype and send letters of support.
“I am a big proponent of youth voices in our programs,” Gordon said. “I think the kids will tell us much more than we learn from them if we took the time to listen.”
Hundreds of counselors have volunteered to be on call to visit Butte County schools and train its teachers to deal with trauma to help students adapt to their new surroundings.
“Students are more successful when they know that someone truly cares about them,” Sarah Koligian, Folsom Cordova Unified superintendent, said in a news conference. “That means tending to students’ emotional needs is critical.”
Sacramento leaders are also looking to financially assist schools in Butte County, including sending unused portable buildings, Gordon said. The Office of Education’s business department is helping Butte County restore school records, such as student transcripts, that were destroyed in the fire.
“Things you think wouldn’t happen are now coming up,” Gordon said.
Eight of the nine schools in the Paradise Unified School District were destroyed, along with two of six charter schools. The district confirmed that none of its 3,500 students or district employees were among those killed in the fire.
Gordon also spent time in Butte County assisting the education officials.
“The uncertainty will be there for a long time, because the devastation is so profound,” Gordon said. “In the normal course of affairs, people think things will get repaired in two months. But Paradise was obliterated. They might not be back for a year.”
Herrera was in Butte County for ten days, and said he couldn’t compare it to the tornado or earthquake devastation he has seen in other parts of the country.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said. “This is a whole new world, and we’re happy to do anything to support the kids and families.”
Editor’s note: This story was changed Nov. 29 to correct the number of schools destroyed in the fire.