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Fires prompt Brown, Crowell elementary to reschedule Outdoor Ed
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Students at Crowell Elementary School and Brown Elementary School had to reschedule their trip to Foothill Horizons Outdoor School this week due to ongoing fires in the area. - photo by Photo Contributed

Sixth grade students at Brown Elementary School and Crowell Elementary School will have to wait a few more months before they can explore the central Sierra at Foothill Horizons Outdoor School, after ongoing fires caused both schools to reschedule their trip to January.

“My students were disappointed and shocked because we’ve been talking about this since we started school,” said Crowell Elementary sixth grade teacher Scott Cortez, “but we talked more about it and said that people have lost their homes, so we’re the lucky ones because we are safe and sound.”

In lieu of the cancelled trip, Cortez said that he went back to normal classroom activities, but he tried to make it more fun so that his students wouldn’t be too upset about the change in plans. Cortez said that he was able to help his students see “the silver lining” by telling them that there was a chance that they would get to see snow when they make the trip early next year.

“Either way, I know we’re going to have fun,” said Cortez.

Fellow Crowell Elementary sixth grade teacher April Welch said that her students are already very eager to attend the Outdoor School with Brown Elementary at the rescheduled date. In the meantime, Welch has kept students excited with hands-on experiences, such as archaeological digs, excavating fossils and caveman art drawings.

“We are also going on nature walks outside to distinguish weather and erosion here on campus as well as creating the three types of rocks: igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic to incorporate the rock cycle,” said Welch.

As director of Foothill Horizons Outdoor School, Jessica Hewitt emailed teachers and principals at both school sites last week with a fire and smoke update. Hewitt said that although the Butte Fire, which is 25 miles northwest of the site, does not pose a threat, she urged principals and teachers to be extra cautious regarding the safety of their students.

“We would only welcome students if we were 100 percent confident that they would be safe,” said Hewitt in the email.

As of press time on Thursday, the Butte Fire has burned 70,760 acres in Amador and Calaveras Counties and is 55 percent contained. The fire has destroyed 252 residences, 188 outbuildings and 17 structures. A total of 6,400 structures are threatened.

This follows the decision by Foothill Horizons to evacuate students earlier this month due to the Oak Fire that was 1.5 miles from the school site. The Oak Fire, which spanned 108 acres in Tuolumne County, has since been contained. Only one residence and two outbuildings were destroyed.