After Wildfires Destroyed Their Homes, Students Find Healing Help At School : NPR Ed Experiencing a natural disaster can traumatize children. After a devastating wildfire in California, some educators are using an unusual assignment to help students find comfort.
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After Wildfires Destroyed Their Homes, Students Find Healing Help At School

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After Wildfires Destroyed Their Homes, Students Find Healing Help At School

After Wildfires Destroyed Their Homes, Students Find Healing Help At School

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

With wildfires raging across parts of Southern California, dozens of schools have been closed - will stay there until the new year. When they do reopen, educators are wondering, what can they do to help kids who have been traumatized by these fires? One answer can be found a few hundred miles north in Santa Rosa, Calif. In October, a massive wildfire tore through that town. NPR's Lauren Migaki has the story.

LAUREN MIGAKI, BYLINE: Teachers at Northwest Prep Charter School knew they couldn't dive right back into algebra on that first day back to school three weeks after the fire. So they gathered all 75 students in a community circle. And teacher Jessica Hadid says students really opened up about their experiences.

JESSICA HADID: I think every one of the students who lost a home spoke during that discussion, which we didn't expect.

MIGAKI: One of those kids is seventh-grader Clark Howe.

CLARK HOWE: I woke up around 1:30, and my dad says that we need to leave. And so I grabbed some things, and we get the dogs - grab the neighbor because she can't drive. And we drove out. We were all really nervous. There was just cars everywhere - people driving on the wrong side of the road, fires starting on lawns. It was really bad. And we were all just really scared for what could happen.

MIGAKI: His family made it to safety. But their home - a total loss.

CLARK: Nothing was left. My dad had an old car in the garage. It was a classic Mustang. He's really upset about that. I had a bunch of things in my room. I had a couple stuffed animals. Everybody lost something.

MIGAKI: Clark says he was eager to get back to school - be with his friends, many of whom have also lost their homes.

ALYSSA DOSSAT: We realized we needed to do something as a school to help our students and really our whole community process what we'd all been through.

MIGAKI: Math teacher Alyssa Dossat came up with an idea while she was evacuated from her home. She had taken her children to a museum.

DOSSAT: My 7-year-old was looking at the earthquake exhibit in the Academy of Sciences, and she was reading the quotes on the wall from people in the 1906 and the '89 earthquakes. And she was reading it going, Mom, who wrote this? Who - you know, who are these quotes from? I said they're from people, sweetie. That's how it works. We record history that way.

MIGAKI: And so an oral history assignment was born. Students at Northwest Prep will use smartphones and tablets to record stories from the fire. They'll curate and archive those accounts from people in their community.

ADAM NAPOLEON: They are providing something that can be a sense of healing.

MIGAKI: Teacher Adam Napoleon says it's rare that students get to be the primary sources in their own history lesson.

NAPOLEON: People can tell their story. They can provide not only this historical record but this emotional healing aspect that a lot of people in our community need right now.

MIGAKI: Seventh-grader Clark Howe says it's sometimes hard to talk about the fire - to remember all that was lost. But he also says it's been really good to talk about it, and he can't believe all the support from his community.

CLARK: Many donations have come in. We're really - we're not struggling very much anymore. We're looking for some good holidays.

MIGAKI: Earlier this month, Clark's family and neighbors returned to their old neighborhood to put Christmas decorations on one of the only trees left standing after the fire.

CLARK: It's a crabapple tree. It's in our front yard.

MIGAKI: Lauren Migaki, NPR News, Santa Rosa.

(SOUNDBITE OF SET AND SETTINGS'S "AXIOM DREAM WITHIN")

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