The most meaningful descriptions of the rapid recovery this week in the Evergreen school district come from those most deeply impacted. Crestline Elementary School teacher Luda Tupikov, who grew up in the former Soviet Union, was quoted in a Thursday Columbian story: “I believe that Americans are the most giving people. I regret that I lost so many things in my classroom. But without this tragedy, I would never have realized how supportive this community is. People are more important than things. It’s just stuff that can burn.”
Margaret Varkados, principal at Fircrest Elementary School, which had but two days to prepare seven classrooms for 165 arriving Crestline students, explained in another Columbian story: “Our goal is that we’re going to make this work. It’s what we do. We help one another. The phone has been ringing off the hook. People want to help. What we need right now are positive thoughts from everyone.”
Positive thoughts such as a banner outside Ellsworth Elementary School that declared: “Ellsworth Panthers Welcome The Crestline Lions!”
At Columbia Valley Elementary School, which welcomed 75 new students, Principal Jim Fernandez said: “Our No. 1 concern is that we want the Crestline students to feel like a part of our community. They’re part of our family now. We’re working fast and furious to get those rooms set up for them.”
What has unfolded this week in east Vancouver is more than just a logistical miracle. It’s a testament to the resilience of the human spirit. Among the many heroes are these groups:
The Crestline kids — Losing your school and everything in it is devastating for any child. But the Crestline kids are learning a valuable lesson: Many of your best friends arrive during the worst of times.
The host kids — More than 2,000 children at five schools are learning about teamwork during adversity. They’re also learning this lifelong lesson: Helping strangers builds confidence and strengthens character.
Administrators — Rather than appoint a study group, Evergreen administrators wasted no time coming up with a plan, then implementing it with stunning quickness. Relocating 500 students and 50 teachers and staff members is a task of immense complexities. School bus routes had to be changed, even new ones drawn for students who had walked to Crestline. Makeshift classrooms had to be found (“repurposing spaces,” they call it). Previously rigid school schedules had to be reconfigured for lunch, recess, music and other periods.
Teachers — Imagine the daunting challenge of having to teach after losing everything in your classroom. Crestline teachers are earning the community’s deep admiration. At the other schools, teachers knew they had to make sudden sacrifices. In a way, this came naturally, because they could empathize with the Crestline teachers.
The public — Good Samaritans are too numerous to list. An anonymous donor brought to the district office 27 gift cards valued at $100 each to help Crestline teachers replace books. Businesses contributed thousands of dollars. Other local districts donated supplies, advice and expertise. A school in Puyallup 130 miles away sent supplies for Crestline.
No doubt, the Evergreen plan for recovery will be fraught with problems and challenges for months to come. But even as the old Crestline exists only as an ash heap, the resilience of the children and the pragmatic survival instincts of the adults have flourished in ways never seen before the fire.
Thursday night was Pride Night at Ellsworth Elementary. Was it ever.