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Special Coverage

This story is part of a monthly series in 2018 chronicling the rebuilding efforts in Sonoma County’s four fire zones: Coffey Park, Fountaingrove, the greater Mark West area and Sonoma Valley. Read all of the Rebuild North Bay coverage here

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Read all of the PD’s fire coverage here

Saisha Cory found his old sword while digging through the rubble of his Mark West Springs home. He had designed it in his father’s machine shop when he was 15.

It was a few months after the October 2017 wildfires and Cory, then a senior at Roseland Collegiate Prep, wanted to create a senior project demonstrating the strength of the community following the firestorm.

“(When) I got to my old property, I found the sword that became the centerpiece of my art and I knew instantly I wanted to create a statue with it,” Cory said. “I was trying to come up with what to make when a friend of mine recommended I do a phoenix, and I fell in love with the idea.”

Cory’s phoenix is a compilation of parts from his home and parts from the home of Wendy Valle, a 7th grade teacher at RCP who also lost her home. The phoenix recently received a Best of Show award at the Sonoma County Fair.

It’s become a symbol for the still relatively young school, whose rented home of six years on the old Ursuline High School campus off Old Redwood Highway suffered severe damage during the wildfires.

“We were in final negotiations and about to buy when the fires happened,” said Amy Jones-Kerr, superintendent of the Roseland School District. “Now, we’ve had the property re-appraised and our charter school foundation is finalizing purchase of the property as-is.”

The campus lost its gymnasium and a block of eight classrooms to the fire. A separate building containing 14 classrooms, the cafeteria, a covered outdoor eating space and an additional building called Brecia Hall were spared. One staff member and 12 RCP students lost their homes, four of whom were seniors.

“As a school, we were all deeply saddened by the loss of our home,” said Daniela Cabrera, a senior who is the current RCP Associated Student Body president. “A few of us even snuck onto the campus as the fire was burning just to see how damaged our beloved school was. When the fire ended and reality struck, we were all dreading going back to school.”

The Roseland District charter school, which serves seventh- to 12th-grade students, was forced to spread its students across two Roseland elementary campuses for the first few months following the return to classes.

In December, the campus was able to reunite, this time on the former Roseland University Prep campus on Sebastopol Road. Students who lost their homes received financial donations and the NFL Oakland Raiders football team gave clothes and sports gear to the district.

“It’s basically a warehouse,” said Christine Byrne, a science teacher who is beginning her second year teaching at the school. “But I love it because it feels like a warehouse of knowledge.”

Some of the students had a hard time adjusting to the idea of taking classes on a campus that used to belong to their district rival.

“Imagine having a kingdom as your school surrounded by nature and then downgrading to a warehouse. Not just any warehouse though — your rival school’s,” said Cabrera. “We had to watch as they got their new building and we lost ours.”

Special Coverage

This story is part of a monthly series in 2018 chronicling the rebuilding efforts in Sonoma County’s four fire zones: Coffey Park, Fountaingrove, the greater Mark West area and Sonoma Valley. Read all of the Rebuild North Bay coverage here

_____

Read all of the PD’s fire coverage here

Despite the uprooting from their original academic home, RCP students are still finding the support they need.

“I’ve never felt in a more comfortable place than I do now just because RCP supports me,” said Ashley Basurto, a sophomore at RCP this year.

The warehouse campus will serve as Roseland’s temporary home, at least for now. RCP has a lease on the property which extends through the 2019-20 school year.

“It was really important for us to secure the lease to the old RUP campus so we could keep the school together,” Jones-Kerr said. “We needed to continue focusing on building our school’s culture.”

Basurto said the student body bonded despite the upheaval.

“It really caught my attention, because everyone was united,” Basurto said. “It touched my heart because I’ve never seen it like that.”

Basurto had two friends — who happen to be cousins and were her teammates on the RCP girls’ soccer team — lose their home in the fires. She also knew one of the boys’ soccer team players who lost his home.

“It’s hard. My friends are still upset — they lost the home they grew up in,” Basurto said. “It’s not something you forget.”

Cabrera noted the school celebrated its homecoming dance the night before the fires.

“I spent the last night at school with the people I love the most and for that I will be forever grateful,” said Cabrera. “I’m glad RCP went out with a bang and it was filled with all the people who love it.”

In the meantime, the campus has celebrated unique milestones — like graduating founding students as a part of the class of 2018 in May. The founding students who graduated are those who began classes with the school as 7th graders in the fall of 2012 when the school opened its doors, after Roseland University Prep had such a long waiting list it was unable to accommodate all students.

One of the founding RCP students was Richmine Sophy, whose College Park home was just barely spared from the flames.

“We got out around 4 a.m. and I grabbed my school books because I figured I’d still go to school the next day,” Sophy said. “When I heard school burned down I was pretty devastated.”

Sophy’s home survived, although the flames stopped a block behind his house. He is now attending Sonoma State University, majoring in theater arts, but he dropped by the temporary RCP campus to say hello the day before school began this month.

“We’re not just a school, we’re a family,” said Basurto. “But I’m not used to being at the warehouse. I would like to go back to my old campus.”

RCP began classes Aug. 14. The first day of school produced mixed feelings among the student body.

“On the first day of school I had this off feeling (and) I could not wrap my head around it. All I knew was that something was off,” said Cabrera. “I realized this was the first year I would not be starting at the old campus. I am a senior this year and it is sad to realize that I can never have my old school one last time because all that is left is soil.”

Yet Basurto acknowledges the tragedy still produced solidarity for the student body.

“I feel like everything happens for a reason, and with time everything will go back into its place,” said Basurto. “It’s still something that brought the whole school together.”

Jones-Kerr stated the district would prefer to see the school return to the Ursuline campus by the 2019-20 school year, but also recognized rebuilding efforts could be delayed.

“We’ve also contemplated doing a soft move, where we have part of the school return to the old campus, either the junior high or the high school,” Jones-Kerr said.

Danielle Yount, the principal of RCP, stressed the importance of taking time to prepare the new campus.

“The rebuild will take a while, so we want to take the time to do it right,” Yount saod.

Cabrera is skeptical about a rebuild timeline.

“If I am being hones,t we have not heard any news about rebuilding and I have a feeling it will be a long time until our school will be rebuilt,” Cabrera said. “I would love to see it rebuilt for future generations so they can enjoy it as much as I did.”

Aside from the fire rebuild, Jones-Kerr noted there is additional land available for development within the boundaries of the property the district is purchasing.

“We have this area of raw land and of course the former Ursuline campus which we’ve been on,” Jones-Kerr said. “What I envision for the new campus is a clear nod to Ursuline history with a little Roseland swing.”

Slated for installment on the new campus? Cory’s phoenix, rising.

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