Schools help kids cope with trauma of Marshall Fire

BOULDER COUNTY, Colo. — More than 800 students in the Boulder Valley School District (BVSD) were displaced or temporarily evacuated because of the Marshall Fire. In some cases, their homes were damaged. In others, their homes were completely destroyed.

The district has a network of ways to help, from mental health advocates to financial assistance for school-related activities and coordinating with the community.

Coal Creek Elementary School in Louisville is also serving an important role on its own. It’s a testament to how important brick and mortar can be.

“We were worried we would not be able to come back to what we know and love,” Principal Brian Munoz said.

Munoz said it’s the only familiar building left for so many kids, after 60 students lost their homes and more were displaced.

“Completely burned to the ground, complete devastation,” said Munoz.

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Coal Creek Elementary is one of nine schools marked as “high impact” because of the loss and number of students impacted.

While kids may not always find the words to describe how they feel, the school can see the ways it’s manifesting — anxiety, anger, nightmares that the fire will get them.

Staff at BVSD said they’ve heard from students sharing their nightmares about the fire. They shared how their parents raced out of the neighborhood to get to safety while surrounded by flames, and how they fled their homes, sometimes without shoes on, because the fire moved so fast.

“School is their safe place,” said Yadi Cook, a district mental health advocate.

Cook said it’s important for kids to see familiar faces and classrooms, and have a routine they can rely on at school after what they survived.

After an already tough two years, some children lost the very thing that brought them comfort.

“Kiddos were talking about not being able to hug their dog anymore or walk their dogs,” said Munoz. “That companionship that has been such a part, even the past couple of years through COVID, and isolated from their friends.”

The district has helped coordinate transportation as families have now found temporary housing in North Boulder, Erie and Broomfield. Some families are in hotels. Through a federal program, the district said families are receiving financial help for things like gas to be able to make the commute.

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