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Woodland Park School District teachers step up to help crews battling High Park Fire

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- Around half of the 170 teachers in the Woodland Park School District are volunteering this week to support fire crews battling the High Park Fire burning for a second week in Teller County.

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On Tuesday, Dr. Mathew Neal, district superintendent, organized a plan to help support approximately 240 on-the-ground responders.

According to the district, three elementary schools will alternate closing every day between May 17 and May 19 to allow willing WPSD teachers to support the crews at the incident command center located at 4 Mile Fire Station in Teller County.

On Friday, teachers from the middle school and high school will help out.

“A crisis rarely arises at a convenient time; however, I am incredibly grateful for a staff eager to respond and lend a helping hand to our responders. WPSD staff are incredibly dedicated to this community in every way, particularly when stepping up to a challenge. We are a team and absolutely dedicated to our families and students of our schools both in and out of the school environment.”

Dr. Mathew Neal
Superintendant of Schools at WPSD

In a press release, the district thanks its staff and families for their flexibility and support during this crisis.

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The teachers are doing a variety of tasks -- such as unloading supplies and setting up structures -- to free up fire crews for more important duties.

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Gateway Elementary was the first school to volunteer Tuesday, and participating teachers such as Michelle Miller were excited.

"The moment I read the email, I felt absolutely excited because I thought what an awesome opportunity for us to go and help, and be a part of this and contribute to our community," she said. "I got to throw a rock over a semi to create a sun structure, which was a real highlight of my day. The students made posters and signs to support us."

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Miller said that the teachers worked from 8:30 a.m. until 2:30 p.m., and were rewarded after their shift with a tour of the fire zone.

Fire commanders requested help from county commissioners Sunday.

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"It's already been a busy fire season this early in the year and resources are spread thin all over the West," said Keith Plagemann, of the Rocky Mountain Incident Management Team. "We're having the same issues that so many others are having with worker shortages and limited supplies. We really appreciate the district's help because without it, we wouldn't be as far along on the fire as we are."

Gateway Principal Ashley Lawson said that there was some initial concern that the school could begin volunteering so soon with just a day to alert parents of the situation.

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"But the feedback from my parents at pickup yesterday was phenomenal," she said.

Plagemann said that using teachers as volunteers isn't common but has been done before in recent years.

"As we looked around the community, we realized that our families, parents and kids were being evacuated, and it was a really important thing for us to give back," Neal said.

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The volunteering comes as the district wraps up its school year on Memorial Day weekend -- and with containment on the fire increasing to 70% Tuesday, it seems unlikely the teachers' help will be needed after Friday.

Scott Harrison

Scott is a reporter for KRDO. Learn more about Scott here.

Comments

1 Comment

  1. Maybe I’m misunderstanding the situation, but it’s not volunteering or “giving” back if you’re paid. These guys are taking a paid day of working as teachers and instead volunteering putting up tarps and such. O.k., if everyone is fine with that, it’s not my business, but we just had a whole school board elected on a “COVID school closures damage our kids” platform, and there are 25,000 residents of Teller County and tons of them are or would volunteer without having to take a paid day of work to do it. Many of the actual fire fighters are not paid to do the actual fighting of the fires. I don’t think the kids will suffer losing a day of school in those weeks before summer when the schools aren’t doing anything anyway, but there are parents who have had to deal with taking time off work unexpectedly for the two years of COVID, and now they have to take a day off work because their child’s teacher wants to spend a day in the field? This should not be a cheerleading story.

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