PARADISE, Calif. — Like most children this past year, students at Paradise Adventist Academy (PAA) have been learning in not-so-typical ways. The pandemic, however, is not the only reason why.
The 2018 Camp Fire made their campus unsafe and unusable. After extensive reconstruction and refurbishment, high school students from both this year and the next got a peek at what they'll return to next school year.
"It gives me great pleasure to say to you as Paradise Adventist Academy students and staff: welcome home," said Steven Hamilton, lead pastor at Paradise Seventh-Day Adventist Church, as he addressed over 50 returning students and staff in the courtyard located directly at the center of the campus.
Students spent the day touring the upgraded facilities that have been in the works for around two years. While classes will not be held here until August 2021, it was the first time the student body has physically been together since 2018.
"We’ve got things like filtered water systems," says PAA Principal Monte Nystrom. "To be more eco-efficient, we got lights that automatically come on and off. We got new air-conditioning systems. We got new roofs because those were all damaged in the fire."
"For our church members and school constituents, 390 houses burned in the Camp Fire," says Hamilton. "So many of the students, they don’t have their home to go back to. What’s left of this campus and has been restored post-fire is really the only home-ness that they have to come back to."
High Schoolers have not stepped foot on this campus for close to two and a half years thanks to both wildfires and the coronavirus pandemic. State and county COVID-19 guidelines allowed the elementary school to return to in-person teaching here in September 2020.
Returning teenagers, like junior Katie Hamilton, are happy to finally come back home.
"It’s just so amazing because I’ve spent most of my high school career not on an actual school campus," says Hamilton, who was a freshman when the blaze hit.
She spent just two weeks at PAA before the fire forced her and other students to commute to the academy's sister campus in Chico 30 minutes away, every day.
"We’re doing school in little-kid Sunday school rooms and so it’s been... we’ve been very thankful for it but it’s also been really challenging," says Hamilton. "It’ll be great back up here where we have a real science lab, we have a library now. I do study halls in my car (currently) because we don’t have a place to do study halls."
While the 50 high schoolers are finishing out the school year on the Chico campus, they say their return in August has been a long time coming.
"To be able to be only 10 minutes away from school now is just so awesome," says Hamilton. "I get to sleep in!"
"It’s a new beginning," says Nystrom.