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Santa Rosa students designing home for teacher who lost hers in wildfire

The Roseland University Prep students are working on six designs for their teacher who lost her home in October’s fires.|

Roseland University Prep teacher Anna Solano said she had just three minutes to escape her home in the early morning of Oct. 9 when the Tubbs fire roared through her Coffey Park neighborhood in Santa Rosa.

After a neighbor banged on her door to wake her, Solano, 50, and her partner took their dog and little else, leaving behind possessions that symbolized years of memories, including three cars Solano called her “babies.”

The couple had just remodeled their two-story Mocha Lane home and repainted it baby blue.

In all, eight teachers and 25 families in the Roseland School District lost homes in October's wildfires, part of the wider toll that claimed hundreds of homes of Santa Rosa students and teachers and more than 5,100 homes altogether across Sonoma County.

Solano teaches the Roseland Prep maker class, which focuses on do-it-yourself projects that emphasize applied learning and the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Rather than traditional problem-solving on paper, Solano's students tackle their learning through building projects.

This semester, the class was set to craft and construct prosthetic legs as a lesson in math and engineering.

But after the fires, they proposed a different lesson plan: Why not design models of home plans to replace the house Solano lost in the fires?

“It's like showing that you care,” said Charlie Perez, 17, one of the students. “It's supporting her through this. Roseland, we're like a family, so we're just helping her out.”

Students are working on six different designs to potentially replace the home Solano lost, with the floor plans mapped out first as blueprints and then constructed of cardboard. The final plywood and balsa wood renditions are just about done.

It was the students' idea, Solano said, born of the do-it-yourself ethos in the maker class.

“I mean, at first I was like, ‘OK, make houses,' ” she said. “But then when they really started, they started asking me tons of questions.”

She had just two requests: No bathroom near the kitchen (a flaw in the previous house's floor plan, she said) and a three-car garage for her “babies.”

“But that was it,” she said. “The rest, they could do whatever they wanted.” Principal Sue Reese said she's observed the students' models and was impressed.

“The beauty of that class is that it truly is a makers class, so kids get to make things that they're interested in and figure out the design and physics and math behind those things,” Reese said.

“The fact that they chose to create projects around a tragedy, I think was such a teachable moment ... I think it was such a real life, real world project that it was absolutely in line with the curriculum of the maker program.”

The model created by students Marco Barajas, Rolando Tapia and Charlie Perez was designed with a removable second floor, so Solano can get a better understanding of the layout and spacing on the first story - which features plenty of garage space for her cars.

Whether Solano will actually choose one of her students' floor plans when she rebuilds remains to be seen, but that's really beside the point, she said.

“I mean, I'm really proud,” she said.

“It's overwhelming - just their work ethic. It made me realize that like 10 years from now, some of these kids, even if they don't go to college, they're going to have these skills. They're going to have a good job. Some of them walk around saying I know what I'm going to be when I grow up now, and that gives me chills.”

Staff Writer J.D. Morris contributed reporting. You can reach Staff Writer Christi Warren at 707-521-5205 or christi.warren@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @SeaWarren.

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