“We need to get online now and find our students!” a local Northern California school site administrator implored us two days after the fires decimated the town of Paradise CA just miles from our offices.
Last Thursday – November 8th, members of the Navigation North team in Northern California woke up to head into the office and quickly noted an eerie hue to the sky. Despite the call for clear weather and mild temperatures, a large dark cloud hung heavy to the east over the foothills east of Chico and seemed to be visually growing and expanding as it competed with the sunrise. As we filed into our workspace, we noticed it had gotten progressively and oddly darker outside as the first hour of the morning unfolded. One staff member went outside to snap a picture of the surreal colors of the clouds that now filled the entire sky above our offices and the city of Chico.
Just after 8:30am, team-members started getting notifications that, what we thought to be a cloud, was indeed smoke from an erupting and fast-moving fire that was quickly encroaching on the city of Paradise just 15 miles away in the foothills above Chico. And then the social-media feeds started coming in. News that many of our friends and family members were being evacuated and scattered images that seemed to show sections of the town’s center on fire were confusing and unbelievable.
Two staff members who grew up in the community of Paradise, and had taught at Paradise schools knew all too well the probable outcomes for this heavily wooded town in the Sierra Nevadas, hemmed in with thousands of tall pine trees and brush with limited roadways leading out. This scenario had been feared for years. What nobody predicted was just how fast, and devastating the fires would be once aided by 30 – 40 mile per hour winds. We sat horrified watching video after video of people we directly knew driving through active flames in the middle of a modern, fully developed city through downed powerlines, flying embers, and collapsing buildings while weaving through burnt out vehicles to narrowly escape the exploding flames.
As Thursday come to an end, evacuation-ready notices were extended to some of our own neighborhoods in Chico and surrounding towns, but the news coming out of Paradise was one of utter and complete devastation. It would take a few more days for the full picture to come into view. But where a town of some 30,000 residents once lived, was now 95% gone. Schools, stores, post offices, churches, and over 12,6oo residences at last count. The fatalities are still being calculated to this day, and the physical and emotional toll is now settling in across all affected parties. Our town of Chico has now become the temporary home for an estimated 40,000 evacuees. They quickly maxed out the emergency shelters, homes of friends, available apartments, hotel rooms, trailers or RVs and tent-cities have emerged over-night in various locations across town. Nobody has been left untouched on some level, as families, elderly, and others not having a place to land have ended up sleeping in cars and make-shift shelters wherever they can. The city of Chico and its residents and businesses are working tirelessly to lessen the impact with impromptu food and clothing drives and distribution efforts, but the need is overwhelming.
Beyond hosting displaced families in our own homes, the Navigation North team has thrown their professional efforts, expertise, and relationships beyond our community and state behind helping re-gather and re-establish the schools of Paradise. With no facilities left, and no access back into Paradise in sight for months due to toxic ash and pending Winter weather, site and district leaders that oversee the 5,000 displaced students are scrambling to secure temporary facilities in any and all commercially available sites throughout Chico. Having participated in two major convenings of Paradise educator teams and students hosted at local high schools in Chico this last week since the fire, we were struck by the outpouring of aid for these families, and the sheer weight of the situation stitched across the faces of the teachers of the Paradise community. We moved through groups of teachers that we had taught with, and have known in our professional work now for over 20 years and just rolled from one hug to another as tears flowed and stories of harrowing escape unfolded from school sites across the ridge.
NOW WHAT? – Navigation North has jumped in on the efforts with the public education recovery teams locally. We have proposed to secure 5,000 chromebooks for ALL displaced students to immediately tether with Verizon community broadband recently made wide-open so we can connect kids with their teachers and peers and content immediately!
We have hundreds of teachers who need their students. We have thousands of students who need their teachers and one another. We will not have physical facility to bring them together for weeks and quite possible months. All affected school sites and leadership teams have told us, “Get us devices. Get us online. Get us to our students!”
We are calling on all of our past and current partners within California and across the United States to please donate!
We have set up a fund with the schools to secure the purchase of the first 3500 Chromebooks for the middle and high school students and teachers so we can begin distribution immediately. Once we have the needs of grades 6-12 students and teachers met, we will look at grades K-5. We are also targeting these funds for setting up facilities networking in the buildings being provisioned on the fly to serve as learning centers over the next 4 – 6 months to get these schools and their students through the remainder of this school year. These learning centers will become the closest thing to schools to help provide the secondary students a blended, flexible model for proceeding with their education, while also serving as community resource centers for affected families.
Please pass along this information across all of your networks. This student technology emergency fund is set up through the North Valley Community Foundation as to ensure funds are expressly spent on just what was outlined above, and to provide you or your agency a tax-deductible contribution. Navigation North will work to distribute these funds exclusively to the school site leads affected by these fires, and will ensure that these will ONLY go into the hands of students and teachers.
We want to also thank the efforts of our partners, the Paradise Unified School District, the Paradise Charter Schools Community, the Butte County Office of Education, our local GrowTech Industry Team, and Instructure and Edmentum for their commitment of integrated LMS services and courseware for all students and faculty to get education up and running for these children and their families!
Thank You from the bottom of our hearts – Navigation North