Kids writingKids at Schaefer Elementary write their poems. Credit: Margo Perin.
Third grade teacher, Tracy Henry, points to an American flag hanging in her classroom at Schaefer Elementary. The flag is melted along the edges, it shows just how hot the classroom got when the Tubbs fire swept through Santa Rosa and miraculously missed the school. 

“I have kids telling me still, oh Ms. Henry I lost my stuffed animals that were in the garage and I know that they burned in there and it makes me very sad,” she said. “You know, those little things were people to them.”

Half of Henry’s students lost their homes that year. This year, she has five students in her third grade class who lost homes. This trauma is impossible to ignore in the classroom. Behavioral problems have spiked since the fires. According to 2018 data from First 5 Sonoma County,  84% of early childhood care providers noted increased aggression, impulsivity, and sadness among children. Henry has noticed this too.

“Last year we started noticing a whole lot of behavioral issues, and everyone was like what is going on, what is going on," she said. And we finally started to realize that the adults have been processing the fires since day one and they’ve been taking care of all of the things that need taken care of. The kids have really put themselves in the back seat. They don’t want to be in the way, they don’t want to bother, they don’t want to take away from the parents who need to do the things they do. But the problem there is they haven’t had the chance to process their own feelings.”

IMG 1751 1Perin writes instructions for the students on a whiteboard. Credit: Adia White.In addition to literacy, math and other school subjects, trauma recovery has been added to the list of things that Henry has to help her students learn. Thanks to the non-profit, California Poets in the Schools, she has some help. Poet Margo Perin is working with Henry’s third grade class this year. 

“Poetry is a really easy way to express yourself because you don’t have to worry about grammar or punctuation,” she said. “There’s a direct link between what you’re feeling and what you’re thinking and the printed word.” 

Perin tells the students to write a poem about advice from an animal. The classroom is silent as the third graders race to finish their poems. Then Perin tells them to put their pencils down. 8-year-old Delila Stone, who lost her home in the Tubb’s fire, is one of the first to volunteer to read hers aloud. It’s called, Advice from a Llama.

“From now and on, never give up and never be mean,” she reads. “But when some things are tough, be kind and enjoy the sunlight.” 

After she finishes, I ask if writing the poem helped her to process what’s she’d been through. When she first started writing, it was sad, she tells me, but then she changed her mind and made sure it had a happy ending. At the end of the class, I ask the classroom teacher, Tracy Henry, how long she thinks it will take for her students to recover.

“When you lose like that, I don’t think it’s ever over, but I think we can heal and what we’re doing to get kids to communicate, I think they’ll be better," she said. “In a way, I think they’ll be stronger better people because they’ll have empathy that others don’t because they know where they’ve been”


This story was produced for the USC Annenberg Health Journalism Fellowship. 
 

Fire Recovery & Youth Health

  • IMG 1794
    September 17, 2019

    Educators Worry About Drop in School Attendance After Fires

    Driving to Paradise, you will pass a memorial for the 86 people who died in the Camp Fire. The crosses sit on a small knoll off Skyway, the four-lane road between Paradise and Chico. Almost everyone in town used this road to evacuate last November. The students in Paradise Unified School District,…
  • IMG 1790
    September 16, 2019

    Paradise Elementary Counselors Support Students Through Loss

    Clinical social worker Laura Besser points to a mural outside the administration office at the new Paradise Elementary School. Two elementary schools in Paradise were destroyed in the Camp Fire and the students were relocated to this campus, which used to be the middle school. In the center of the…
  • IMG 1790
    September 13, 2019

    Fire Recovery & Youth Health

    A mural at the new Paradise Elementary School in memory of the school that burned in the Camp Fire. Credit: Adia White.On the night of October 8, 2017, wildfires swept through the North Bay. The Tubbs, Nuns and Pocket fires destroyed more than three thousand homes, leveling neighborhoods and…
  • IMG 1653
    September 03, 2019

    Housing Insecurity Is Taking a Toll on Youth’s Health

    Miranda Hernandez and her mom, Adelina, stand inside their new home. Credit: Adia White Standing in the Fountaingrove neighborhood, you can see the scar of the Tubbs fire stretch across the hillside. Two years later, the trees are still charred and the sounds of reconstruction are constant. Among…
  • IMG 1717
    August 23, 2019

    October 2017 Wildfires Are Affecting Crucial Health Programs

    Image: Ashley Vejar and son Angel. Photo courtesy of the subject “It just chokes me up every single time,” says Kemberly Mahiri, the supervisor for Sonoma County’s Teen Parent Connections Program. She’s showing me one of the hundreds of thank you cards she and other counselors for the program have…

Science & Health News

  • Merkel Tunis
    October 10, 2019

    Two Fire Survivors Remember Lost Mothers and Seek Support

    Tuesday October 8, 5 pm. Santa Rosa Courthouse Square. A small group gathers to commemorate lives lost two years ago in the Sonoma Complex fire. News director Steve Mencher sought out two women who were moving through the crowd with purpose – Catharine Merkel seems almost serene. But she’s feeling…
  • UNADJUSTEDNONRAW thumb ad
    October 09, 2019

    Sonoma County Ridesharing Service Aims to Help Women Feel Safer

    A Sonoma County company wants to make ridesharing safer. “Women Driving Women” is based in Healdsburg and serves customers in both Sonoma and San Diego County. KRCB’s Steve Mencher spoke with founder Renee Cooper about how driving for Uber and Lift inspired her to start her own company. (Image:…
  • IMG 1653
    September 03, 2019

    Housing Insecurity Is Taking a Toll on Youth’s Health

    Miranda Hernandez and her mom, Adelina, stand inside their new home. Credit: Adia White Standing in the Fountaingrove neighborhood, you can see the scar of the Tubbs fire stretch across the hillside. Two years later, the trees are still charred and the sounds of reconstruction are constant. Among…
  • IMG 1717
    August 23, 2019

    October 2017 Wildfires Are Affecting Crucial Health Programs

    Image: Ashley Vejar and son Angel. Photo courtesy of the subject “It just chokes me up every single time,” says Kemberly Mahiri, the supervisor for Sonoma County’s Teen Parent Connections Program. She’s showing me one of the hundreds of thank you cards she and other counselors for the program have…
  • SMART train
    August 01, 2019

    Officials Address Safety Along SMART Train Corridor

    Five people have been killed by the SMART train since June, three are believed to have died by suicide. County leaders are now looking for ways to improve safety for a complicated problem. Sonoma County Supervisor Shirlee Zane has served on the SMART train board for ten years. KRCB’s Adia White…
  • prison jail barbed wire barbwire metal lockup cage 929009
    July 30, 2019

    Grand Jury Commends Sonoma County Jail Mental Health Program

    In Sonoma County, as elsewhere, jails increasingly serve as mental health facilities. In its yearly report, the Sonoma County Grand Jury commended a county jail program that has gained national attention for positive effects on prisoners’ mental health. Sonoma West Editor Laura Hagar Rush spoke…
  • sofsfullpic
    Jun 29, 2019

    Summer of Space!

    NorCal Public Media brings you the universe with SUMMER OF SPACE, a multiplatform experience that includes a month full of science and history…
  • IMG 1048
    Jun 29, 2019

    Teenage Vaping on the Rise in Sonoma County

    In 2018 the U.S. surgeon general declared teenage vaping a national epidemic. Local publisher Sonoma West published an investigation into the growing…
  • opioid pills
    Jun 05, 2019

    Opioid Maker Insys Admits To Bribing Doctors, Agrees To Pay $225 Million Settlement

    GABRIELLE EMANUEL NPR Article Therapeutics, an opioid manufacturer, has agreed to pay $225 million to settle the federal government's criminal and…
  • Shirlee Zane Peter Kingston
    May 07, 2019

    Kaiser CEO Tyson Meets with Families on Mental Health

    In late April, Sonoma County Supervisor Shirlee Zane traveled to Kaiser Permanente headquarters in Oakland. She was there with a group of family…
  • opioid pills
    May 03, 2019

    Opioid Epidemic in the Bay Area

    The opioid epidemic is devastating communities throughout the country. Northern California Public Media partners with regional public health agenies…
  • Philip
    Apr 30, 2019

    New Health Officer Tackles Measles and Other Top Concerns

    Sonoma County has a new Health Officer, responsible for overseeing the Department of Health Services. Dr. Celeste Philip started the job on April 9th…
  • backlit crime dark 143580
    Apr 24, 2019

    San Mateo County Jail Struggles With A New Role For Opioid Detox

    Eric Westervelt NPR News(Redwood City, California) Felipe Chavez, who's doing time at the San Mateo jail for selling fentanyl, is taking part in the…
  • elizabeth morgan brown
    Apr 17, 2019

    Family Turns Grief to Activism After Daughter's Suicide

    Editor's Note: On April 25, Kaiser CEO Bernard Tyson met with the Brown family and Shirlee Zane, and with several others seeking improvements in…
  • apple gadget google 38286
    Mar 19, 2019

    San Jose says NO to incentives

    LISTEN TO THIS STORY ON NPR Jasmine Garsd February 15, 2019 3:25 PM ET A mayor from another city that tried to land big tech companies might be…
  • LAC sunday
    Mar 05, 2019

    Sonoma County Emergency Manager Speaks on Flood Recovery

    Although the Russian River has receded below flood stage, those affected are still struggling to get their lives back in order. At a community…
  • flood debris
    Mar 04, 2019

    Sonoma County Residents Search for Flood Recovery Assistance

    1,900 homes and 578 businesses were damaged by the Russian River flooding and record rainfall last week. Sonoma County officials estimate the total…
  • russian river
    Mar 01, 2019

    Russian River Flood Recovery Resource Page

    Russian River. Courtesy of Sonoma County Sherriff's Office. DAMAGE ASSESSMENTS: While crews are working to open roads, County staff have also started…

NorCal News

Northern California
Public Media Newsletter

Get the latest updates on programs and events.