Saturday January 18, 2020
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Children In California To Return To School, 3 Weeks After The Wildfire

Schoolwork will probably be secondary to dealing with trauma and reconnecting with friends, said Paradise High Principal Loren Lighthall.

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Erica Hail hugs her son Jaxon Maloney, 2, while preparing her older children for their first day of school since the Camp Fire destroyed their home in Yuba City, Calif. VOA

Eight-year-old Bella Maloney woke up next to her little brother in a queen-size bed at a Best Western hotel and for breakfast ate a bagel and cream cheese that her mother brought up from the lobby.

And then she was off to school for the first time in nearly a month.

For Bella, brother Vance and thousands of other youngsters in Northern California who lost their homes or their classrooms in last month’s deadly wildfire, life crept a little closer to normal Monday when school finally resumed in most of Butte County.

“They’re ready to get back,” Bella’s mother, Erica Hail, said of her children. “I think they’re sick of Mom and Dad.” At school, “they get to have time alone in their own space and their own grade and they get to just be by themselves.”

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Erica Hail, back left, dresses son Vance Maloney, 5, while preparing her children for their first day of school since the Camp Fire destroyed their home in Yuba City, Calif. voa

Schools in the county had been closed since Nov. 8, when the blaze swept through the town of Paradise and surrounding areas, destroying nearly 14,000 homes and killing at least 88 people in the nation’s deadliest wildfire in a century. About two dozen people remain unaccounted for, down from a staggering high of 1,300 a few weeks ago.

About 31,000 students in all have been away from school since the disaster. On Monday, nearly all of them went back, though some of them attended class in other buildings because their schools were damaged or destroyed, or inaccessible inside evacuation zones.

Bella was shy and not very talkative but agreed she was excited to be going back. She wanted to see her friends.

The small, tidy hotel room with two queen beds has been home to the family of five for some two weeks. Since they lost nearly everything to the fire, there was little to clutter up the space. The Hails are booked there until February.

“Bella, what time is it?” Hail asked her daughter, waking her up in their hotel room.

“Seven dot dot three five,” came the 8-year-old’s sing-song reply. 7:35. It was time to brush her teeth, comb her hair and hit the road for a nearly hourlong drive to school in the family SUV.

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Bella Maloney, 8, arrives for her first day of school since the Camp Fire leveled her family’s home, in Durham, Calif. VOA

A few minutes later, at seven-dot-dot-four-seven, they were out the door.

Some families driven out by the inferno have left the state or are staying with friends or relatives too far away for the children to go back to school in Butte County.

The Hails — whose five-bedroom, two-bath home in Paradise was destroyed — are staying in Yuba City, a long drive from their new school in Durham.

It was shortly before the 9 a.m. start of the school day when they pulled up to Durham Elementary School, where Bella is in third grade and Vance is in half-day kindergarten.

Across the county, nearly all of the teachers are returning to provide a familiar and comforting face to the children.

“It’s important that the kids are able to stay together and have some sort of normalcy in the crazy devastation that we’re having now,” said Jodi Seaholm, whose daughter Mallory is a third-grader.

Mallory underwent radiation in October to treat a recurrence of brain cancer and showed no fear, Seaholm said, but “this situation with her house burning down has absolutely devastated her.”

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Trees reflect in a swimming pool outside Erica Hail’s Paradise, Calif., home, which burned during the Camp Fire. VOA

Counselors brought in from around the country were in nearly every classroom Monday to help children who were distressed by their escape through a burning town and the loss of their homes, Paradise school Superintendent Michelle John said at a celebratory news conference. Many of the teachers lost their homes as well.

“Our kids are traumatized,” John said. “Their families are traumatized.”

Most of Paradise High School survived but is inaccessible.

The district doesn’t have space yet for intermediate and high school students whose classrooms were rendered unusable, so for the 13 days before the holiday break begins, they will learn through independent study. They will have access to online assignments and a drop-in center at a mall in Chico where they can get help from teachers or see classmates.

Also Read: Australia Suffers From Heat And Fuel Wildfires

Schoolwork will probably be secondary to dealing with trauma and reconnecting with friends, said Paradise High Principal Loren Lighthall.

“They don’t have their church, they don’t have their school, they don’t have their work, they don’t have their friends. They don’t have any of that stuff, and we’re asking them to write five-paragraph essays?” Lighthall said. “It’s just unreasonable at this point. We’re going to do it, but we’re going to be super flexible with what we require.” (VOA)

Next Story

Here’s why Americans Prefer Single-Family Homes

Are Americans Ready to Let Go of Single-Family Homes?

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This is a great way for (homeowners) to rent out their basement, or rent out half their homes. VOA

By Dora Mekouar

For decades, many Americans have viewed owning their own home as a tangible symbol of the American Dream. But the question of whether that dream includes dividing one single-family home into two — along with other higher housing density options — is about to be tested in a handful of states nationwide.

Virginia is one of the latest states to tackle the affordable housing crisis by considering zoning rules to allow denser — and, potentially, more affordable — housing, in any area now zoned for single-family homes.

“If a property owner feels it fits their need to upgrade to a duplex from a single family’s owned property, then they will go about it through a local approval process,” says Virginia House Delegate Ibraheem Samirah, who represents a district in suburban Washington, D.C. “After the local approval process is completed, then they can create their two families’ owned property as they see fit.”

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Virginia lawmakers are considering a proposal that would allow an accessory dwelling, for example, a separate structure, basement apartment or garage apartment, on lots zoned for single homes. VOA

Samirah introduced a bill to allow duplex homes, like townhouses and cottages, in any place that’s currently zoned for single-family homes. The specifics of what those multi-family properties would look like will be left to local governments. The bill does not ban single-family homes.

It’s the kind of move toward creating more affordable housing that’s already been introduced on the West Coast of the United States. Oregon was the first state in the country to ban restrictive single-family zoning in July 2019.

Planning experts and local officials say suburban sprawl has negative impacts on the environment, puts a heavier burden on local services, isolates people, and excludes lower income households and households with people of color from certain communities through economic means.

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In Virginia, builder Carrington Homes offers an accessory dwelling unit, a second living unit (left), as an option for their new homes. VOA

A 2019 Harvard housing report found a “relative lack of smaller, more affordable new homes.” The same report finds that about half of all renter households nationwide spend almost one-third of their income on housing.

But the move away from single-family zoning won’t be an easy one.

“At some level, that development pattern is really uniquely American,” says Robert Parker, executive director of the Institute for Policy Research and Engagement at the University of Oregon.

“People who have lived, and grew up, in low-density suburban developments have a strong preference for that. They can’t really envision a future that’s substantially different than that.”

The size of the average house has more than doubled since the 1950s. In 2019, the average size of a new single-family home was 240 square meters (2,584 square feet), according to the National Association of Homebuilders.

Americans clearly like their space. But millennials — people in their mid-20s to late 30s who make up the nation’s largest living generation — have their own ideas about what the ideal home looks like, according to a Portland, Oregon-area survey cited by Parker.

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Christine Minnehan sweeps up in front of her “granny flat” located in the backyard of her Sacramento, Calif home . VOA

“Eighty percent of them would prefer to live in a detached, single-family residence, and so it really begins to become a matter of scale and amenity,” Parker says. “A lot of those those younger households are really looking for smaller units in walkable neighborhoods and, increasingly, the development community is beginning to recognize that and thinking about ways that they can build those environments.”

Samirah, the Virginia delegate, expects some pushback from people who are worried their neighborhoods could become less desirable, but he says correctly organizing density can benefit property owners, including those who are struggling financially.

“People think it’s going to be a major shift in the landscape of suburbia. I think that’s a false narrative,” Samirah says. “This is a great way for (homeowners) to rent out their basement, or rent out half their house, or whatever it may be…If you’re thinking of retiring, instead of selling your house and moving out to another area, it also helps them keep their families in place.”

“You can have a mixture of densities that’s not detrimental to a set of lifestyles that people hold very dear, that will allow housing choice for households that are struggling to find housing that’s affordable to them in environments that are conducive to the lifestyles that they would like to lead,” Parker says.

Also Read- 2000-2019: The Hottest Decade Measured

He adds that the suburban way of life isn’t going anywhere in the near future.

“There’s little that we can do to retrofit suburbia moving forward so that land use pattern is pretty well ingrained and it’s going to be there for generations.” (VOA)