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Merced teachers need help after January floods

Lachelica Thornton Fresno Bee

Robert Fisher Yarbrough’s daughter gets nervous when it rains.

A massive storm in early January flooded the streets of Planada, forcing evacuations and closures across small rural communities in Merced County.

Now the sound of heavy rain hitting the roof causes anxiety.

“It was pretty impactful,” said Fisher-Yarbrough. “It started raining (the other day) and she got really scared.”

Fisher-Yarbrough’s family didn’t go home for over a week before Pranada Elementary School reopened. With so many families forced from their homes, reopening schools was very important to the community.

Schools have reopened despite heavy damage that left many of them in danger. With more than 800 students, the school was the hardest hit in Merced County when most of the campus, built below the flood line in the 1950s, was flooded.

A month after the water recedes, belongings can be seen piled up in front of many houses on the way to Pranada Elementary School. This is a ‘home away from home’ for staff and students, especially now that so many children have been displaced or are living with them. relatives.

“They come to school and talk about their experiences, what happened, what they saw during the floods,” said Karina Pacheco, a first grade dual immersion teacher. “They lost not only the inside of the house, but also the things inside the house.”

Students share stories of fear, trauma, and loss with their teachers. Many teachers are also dealing with their own grief and trauma.

“There are some staff who have been personally affected,” said Erika Villalobos, principal of Planada Elementary School. “Their house was flooded. .

“Dealing with personal loss has also been a challenge for many.”

Split schedule, at least 2 more months for shared space

The west side of Pranada Elementary School, where the school’s offices, library and most of the classrooms are located, is blocked with yellow and black caution tape.

Around 90% of schools were damaged in the early January floods that hit rural towns.

A lot has changed since the students returned.

Only K-2 grade students and teachers remain on campus, sharing a cafeteria and approximately six pristine classrooms. New classes have been added over the years above the flood line, in contrast to the rest of the school built in 1955.

The flood-dried classrooms are now used as rooms for the entire school.

The cafeteria became a shared space for three classes at once. Above the cafeteria stage is a makeshift library.

Planada students in grades 3-5 take a bus to Cesar Chavez Middle School, which is about 4 minutes away, to use the space provided.

Whether students are “at home” in Pranada or temporarily attend secondary school, Villalobos says students face challenges.

“The instructions look different,” she said. “We are working hard to meet our academic records, but they are only in the space (in the classroom) for three hours and she is in the classroom (in contrast) for the full six hours. .”

The 6 hours are divided between available classrooms and other activities. Students take her 3 hours of classes in the classroom. For her remaining three hours, students work in divided spaces in the cafeteria through physical education, “library” time, online learning, and “everything they can find to fill that time (rather than in the classroom).” I am engaged in teaching. .

Students using middle school follow the same model.

Those students are more difficult to change, she said. Younger students are grouped in classrooms designed for older students, and although there are no play areas, staff have items for them to play with.

“The environment changes. The classrooms. Their materials and books are being moved for them,” Villalobos noted. “It’s more challenging for those students.”

With student bodies split between schools, staff are dividing their time between campuses.

At 12:30 on Wednesday, Villalobos arrived at the campus in Planada after attending middle school. She tagged her vice-principal, who headed off to middle school – they do so at least once a day.

“We try to be at both schools every day so the kids can see us.

Other staff, such as nurses and secretaries, rotate between campuses every two weeks.

Regardless of location, the current situation is impacting everyone’s learning, from missing classes for nearly two weeks due to flooding to “minimizing daily schedules” until space returns.

“There will be an academic loss,” says Villalobos.

The damaged area has already been demolished for construction, and it will take about two more months to repair the walls and floors so that some students can return, Villalobos said. says.

As classrooms become available, the principal and superintendent will discuss and the school will phase in more grade-level students. hope to return to the Planada campus. All students must return by the end of the school year.

Losing Everything: ‘Feeling Like Homeless’, Education Limitations

Planada’s severe flooding is the result of Miles Creek breaching its levee near the community.

It’s not the first time a decades-old school has been flooded, but staff said the January disaster was the worst in recent memory. Twenty-seven rooms of the school were flooded, including most of the classrooms, library and administration office.

“We lost everything we had: bookshelves, books, chairs,” Pacheco said.

They also lost their classroom library, reading rugs, decorations, recently purchased tablets and other materials, as well as items that create “a special learning center within the classroom,” Villalobos added. rice field.

“Some teachers occupy these spaces as their home away from home for 15 to 20 years,” Gonzalez said.

Teaching is “limited,” Pacheco said she and her colleagues are doing “whatever we can do with what we have.”

“I feel homeless,” said Pacheco. “Either way, we make it work.”

From librarians who turn the stage into a library, to educators who hang age-specific learning charts and flyers around the cafeteria, to administrators who turn the staff lounge into an office space, Pranada’s staff make things possible in a dramatic shift. I wanted to be normal as long as possible, Seja said.

“We wanted to create a safe place for them, a place where they feel safe coming, a place they can recognize,” said Villalobos. “This is their home.”

Moving Forward: A New Classroom Means Starting Over

With learning materials lost in the floods, Planada educators must be prepared to replenish and recreate the learning environment for students as soon as construction is complete.

Educators learned at Thursday’s school board meeting that the district’s insurance covers a few items, but each year teachers come out of their own pockets to meet their students’ needs and education. and supplies the classroom to enhance the learning environment.

Curtis Earheart, an agent for Horace Mann Educators Corporation in Merced and Madera counties, is coordinating the fundraising effort through crowdfunding platform DonorsChoose.

More than 20 educators will participate by sharing their stories, including discussing classroom resources and lost items, and how community donations can help students.

Three projects have already been funded.

For example, Graciela Dixon’s project is to replace Lego and MagnaTiles sets in classrooms used to support students with special needs in math, science, and mental health.

“Our students also use it to socialize with their peers and practice their social skills,” Dixon wrote in her project. It was essential to provide an ‘out of the box’ learning experience.”

By supporting Dixon and other educators (who can continue to post projects on DonorsChoose), the school can continue to feel like home for both staff and students, helping the community around it recover. To do.

how to help

Donate to educator projects on DonorsChoose. Click the link or enter “Planada Elementary School” in the DonorsChoose search box.

Donate books to students. The donated books go home with the students who lost their home libraries in the flood.

https://www.eastbaytimes.com/2023/02/12/flooding-ruined-years-of-work-for-some-merced-county-teachers-you-can-help-them-rebuild/ Merced teachers need help after January floods

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