'It’s incredible the way that people are showing up for each other right now. McKenzie is a really strong, small community. And it always has been, but now I think more than ever.'
Xochilt Diaz, kindergarten teacher, McKenzie River Community School
It’s my fourth year teaching kindergarten at McKenzie. I really love kindergarten, and that's what I wanted to do with my life.
My partner went to McKenzie K through 12. He’s lived up here his entire life. So we worked on coming back to the community where he grew up. Shortly after I took the position, we bought a brand-new house and had it delivered to a 40-acre property that his dad had bought back in 1996. His family had worked to make it a spot that we could put a home on and later build our dream house.
Sept. 8 was supposed to be the school’s Week of Welcome. We were inviting families to come for parent-teacher conferences and to learn about what …comprehensive distance learning was going to look like and what things might look like when we were able to bring students back into the building.
But the night before school started is when the wildfire started. I think the majority of people in the valley had to flee, and that was our entire school district.
We grabbed family photos, car titles, birth certificates, but there are so many things that I wish we had had loaded in the car. There was space, but we were just concerned about getting ourselves out and getting what we would need to be comfortable for a few weeks away from home since we knew that this was a bad, bad fire. We did not pack to lose everything that we owned.
We listened to that scanner all night and the next day. I had a feeling that things might be gone, and I even called my mom saying, “I think it's all gone. I think it's all gone, but I don't know.”
There were so many rumors going around, people saying that the school had burned down. I didn't sleep for probably three or four days. And we didn't find out for about four days that our house was actually gone.
Initially after the wildfire, I didn't have any contact with any families and that was really hard for me, but we were in a place without internet or cell service, and I didn't have any of my devices. When I found out that school was starting Sept. 28, I started frantically making parent phone calls and trying to get lessons in place and figure out where all of my students were. I spent the weekend before moving into our rental house, going to Dollar Tree and rounding up as many things as I could to try and make a mini classroom in a corner of the house.
All my students were able to access at least one of our live lessons the first week of school. But there have been a lot of barriers for students who are doing the lessons in their cars or in hotel rooms while their other three siblings are also on live lessons. There are a lot of people that are really just trying to have their basic needs met right now, and that is a challenge enough. During the first days of school, I realized many of the students didn't have any supplies. Maybe they had …picked up a Chromebook so they had that, but in terms of pencils, crayons, paper, anything like that, it's been really limited.
It’s incredible the way that people are showing up for each other right now. McKenzie is a really strong, small community. And it always has been, but now I think more than ever.
This community is home for me. It's been home for my partner for his entire life. So, I can't reimagine my life anywhere but here.
OSBA is telling personal stories of hope and perseverance from the state’s three hardest-hit districts: Phoenix-Talent, McKenzie and Santiam Canyon. These “Rising from the Ashes” stories, told in images and words, will show where support is needed most to help Oregon students and their families rebuild. OSBA has established a Wildfire Resources page that includes links to donate to the hardest-hit communities: Phoenix-Talent; McKenzie; and Santiam Canyon.