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Paradise teacher gives new meaning to homework

For two dozen third-graders who survived the massive wildfire that largely obliterated Paradise, school is now the small home of their teacher, Sheri Eichar: Reading center on the couch, math in the kitchen nook, language in the corner.

When it’s time for recess, the pupils jog around the block of Eichar’s suburban neighborhood in Chico, a 20-minute drive from Paradise.

Of the 24 kids in Eichar’s class at Children’s Community Charter School, 20 lost their homes in the Camp Fire, which broke out near Paradise on Nov.  8 and swept through the small mountain community, killing at least 88 people.

The blaze, which is now fully contained, is already the deadliest U.S. wildfire in a century, with 158 people still unaccounted for as search and rescue teams comb through the rubble and ash for human remains.

Many of Paradise’s 27,000 residents are now settled in and around Chico after the firestorm that consumed the town and destroyed the elementary school.

Within days of the evacuation, Eichar notified her students that classes would resume in her three-bedroom home. She and her husband moved the couches around so the children can sit on the floor of their living room.

On the first day, “The kids walked in like they did it every day of their lives,” Eichar said, and lined up side by side on the couches. Ten to 12 students come most days, although 18 turned up Nov. 26.

“They just needed each other so bad. This fire has created such isolation for the families and these children. They just need to be together,” she said.

All told, 5,000 students have been displaced from Paradise schools. Eight of nine schools in the Paradise Unified School District are damaged or destroyed.

Students left homeless are eligible under federal law to re-enroll in a school wherever they temporarily reside, said Tom DeLapp of the Butte County Office of Education.

Officials are scrambling to identify commercial buildings, available real estate, mobile classrooms and partnerships with other agencies to keep classrooms and kids together.

“It could be years,” before schools are rebuilt in Paradise, DeLapp said. “While the place burned down in 24 hours, we can’t rebuild it in 24 hours.”

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