Napa students talk quake instead of books on first day of school

Schools in Napa reopened Wednesday for the first time following Sunday's earthquake.
Napa schools reopened Wednesday for the first time following Sunday's earthquake. There were delays getting students back to school because the schools had to be inspected to make sure they are safe.

At Napa High School, students headed back to class, happy to see their friends again and to get back into a routine. But some are still feeling a bit anxious. "I'm not ready to learn or be focused right now, just a little bit worried," said student Simrun Bawaj.

Administrators figured that would be the case, so instead of getting back to the books, they decided to let the students sit and talk about the earthquake. "We wanted to meet the emotional needs of the students first, and that's important," explained assistant principal Jon Salinger.

Each student told the class their earthquake story. "It just started shaking, it felt helpless. We all ran under a doorway. We could hear glass breaking. The whole house smelled like vinegar from the kitchen. The kitchen was destroyed," is how student Addie Dearden described her earthquake experience.

Students and teachers say the experience was therapeutic. Teacher Troy Gittings says, "I was very moved at the compassion. No one made any jokes. It was all very serious. It was a good day."

Administrators thought about holding an earthquake drill to help ease the student's fears but then they realized that students need more than just practicing how to evacuate. "We know it like the back of our hand so to do another drill would just set everybody on motion and get everybody charged up and we didn't feel a need for the exact drill today," says Salinger.

Students say talking was much better and many now feel a new bond with their classmates. "We all went through something hard so we are all connected somehow. We are all there for each other. I feel closer to a lot of people," says Bawaj.

"By telling their story, they get it off their chests. Let kids know what was going on and how they felt, was kind of therapeutic, I believe," said Gittings.

Napa schools reopened only after engineers and architects inspected the buildings On Tuesday. "Just a mess, a lot of breakage of bookshelves and things like that, but structurally we are sound," is how assistant principle Jon Salinger described buildings at his school.

That is reassuring to parents like Angela Walker. "I think every precaution was made. This is the safest place."

Some homes in the neighborhood near Browns Valley Elementary have been red-tagged, but the school didn't suffer any structural damage. Returning students took part in drills to review what they must do in case of another earthquake. "They are going to go out to the field where they would be safe and where they would go if we did have an earthquake or a drill," explained Principal Frank Silva.

A few younger students were a bit concerned about returning to school, but as Silva says, "After talking to some of their friends and talking to me and the teachers, I think they are feeling pretty confident."
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