Flood of support follows Crestline fire

Donations from near and far help school's students, staff settle in at temporary sites

By Susan Parrish, Columbian Education Reporter



Brittney Meyer, 8, a Crestline Elementary third-grader, works on her essay titled "Dash is a Good Puppy" in her new classroom at Riverview Elementary.

Photos by Steven Lane/The Columbian Crestline Elementary third-grader Brissa Campos, 9, works on free writing in her new classroom at Riverview Elementary.

Crestline Elementary teacher Melody Autry-O'Dell helps her third-grade students in their new classroom at Riverview Elementary on Thursday.

Crestline Elementary School, part of Evergreen Public Schools, opened Aug. 29, 1973. It was destroyed in a Feb. 3 fire.

Click to enlarge

Third-grade students from Crestline Elementary School talk about settling into class at another school.

An African proverb says it takes a village to raise a child. When that child’s school burns down, villages around the country respond.

It’s been almost two months since Crestline Elementary School was destroyed by a Feb. 3 fire that displaced nearly 500 students, plus teachers and staff. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

Not only did the Clark County community pull together to shore up the displaced Crestline community, but about 1,000 schools, businesses and families around the nation responded to Crestline’s needs with various donations, including books, school supplies and more than $100,000 in cash sent to the school district’s foundation and earmarked for Crestline.

A fifth-grade class at Emerson Elementary School in Everett, almost 200 miles north of Vancouver, sent 1,600 books to Crestline teachers.

“We have Box Tops for Education coming in right and left from around the country,” Bobbi Hite, Crestline principal said. “Last week, I got a card from someone in Texas with a $500 check saying ‘Do whatever you need to do to put your school back together.'”

Almost two months after the devastating fire, the school continues to receive positive letters and donations from hundreds, and even thousands, of miles away.

“We’re pretty much set for supplies,” Hite said, citing “amazing community outreach.”

Within a week after the fire, a Crestline team ordered instructional materials — math and reading books for all the classes, Hite said.

Now staff is planning for their needs next year — “science materials, professional reading books, all those things we lost,” Hite said. “Now we’re rebuilding the comfy things that make the environment what it is — carpets for kindergartners and first-graders and rocking chairs for teachers.”

Crestline classes have been assigned to other elementary schools in the Evergreen district. Students remained with their teachers and grade levels stayed together. Hite said a student wrote her a letter thanking her for keeping each grade level together at one school.

Hite works from the district office, but she spends much of her time visiting her Crestline students, teachers and staff at their schools. On Friday, she visited her kindergartners at Mill Plain Elementary and her first-graders at Ellsworth Elementary for each schools’ Student of the Month awards. She ended her day with her fourth-graders at Fircrest Elementary. It was the last day of school before spring break.

“Students are getting settled into their new schools. We’re at the point where it’s as normal as we can expect it to be,” Hite said. “It took about a month for the kids to settle down. They’re doing very well. They’re so resilient. I’ve been amazed at how hard our students and staff have worked to get back into the learning.”

Melody Autry-O’Dell’s third-grade Crestline class has been relocated to Riverview Elementary. On Thursday, some students sat at desks while others sprawled on beanbag chairs and the floor, first writing an essay and later silently reading books.

“I was a little nervous about coming to a new school but also excited to meet new people,” said Gracie Skjeie, 9.

The first day back to school, Gracie said the class wrote a word describing their feelings on star-shaped paper.

“I wrote ‘excited,'” she said. “I was happy to be in a new school but sad that Crestline burned down. There’s still ash everywhere around my apartments.”

“It’s shocking, at first,” said third-grader Mikayla Eugenio, 9, about having her school burn down. “Once you get used to it, you’re OK, but still a lot’s going through your head. I like the new classroom. It’s bigger. It’s nice. It’s still green and red, like Miss O’Dell’s classroom.”

But not all has been rosy, say the displaced students.

“There was an emotional breakdown when people heard about the fire,” Victoria Walker, 9, said. “The classroom is good. The people are OK. The only thing that really bugs me here is that the kids here say, ‘Look, there’s Crestline,. We do have names. All they do is walk by and stare at us like we’re some kind of freaks. But we can be called by our names. We know we lost a school, but you can still treat us like we’re part of the school.”

John Deeder, superintendent of Evergreen Public Schools, has pledged Crestline will be together under one roof for the next school year while the new Crestline is built at the old site.

“I’m looking forward to next year,” Hite said. “We’re planning for it. Our kids go by Crestline every day. When the school is being rebuilt, they’ll be excited.”

Students were pleased that their bowling pins and balls from physical education classes were saved “but they smelled like barbecued chicken,” said Abigail Taut, 9. “Even the lost and found got burned.”

“I made Miss Hite an origami angry bird, but it got burned in the fire,” Mikayla Eugenio said. “I’m going to make her another one.”

Susan Parrish: 360-735-4515; http://twitter.com/Col_Schools; susan.parrish@columbian.com

View a video of Crestline students in their new classrooms on The Columbian’s YouTube Channel.