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News & Views - Oct  2000 Issue #74

Mount BachelorAcademy 
Team Works During Wildfire

By Elliot A. Sainer, CEO, Aspen Youth Services

A major wildfire ignited by lightning enveloped the wilderness area surrounding the campus of MBA, forcing the students and staff to evacuate the campus on August 27. Moving 20 miles west into a local high school gym that had been set up for a disaster relief center (where the Red Cross did a fantastic job), the staff didn’t drop a beat, as for the next few days they continued to provide classes and tried to make it as “normal” as possible for the students. 

Despite the great uneasiness of not knowing whether the school would be safe from the fire, the staff was absolutely tremendous in keeping the students calm and engaged. I watched creative teachers take their history class “onto the sidewalk”, and other teachers and staff figuring out new ways to teach and work with the students. The students also responded in a very mature way as well. Tuesday night was the scariest for all, as the fire, which burned over 17,000 acres, came within about 300 yards of the campus. 

Luckily, the combination of good weather and tremendous fire fighting support of local and state agencies protected the school, and the students were able to move back onto campus on Friday after five nights at the shelter. This was a very emotional time for both staff and students, and I was so impressed with the skill, energy and talents of the staff in keeping their own emotions in check while creating an environment where the students felt safe. It is also a credit to them that not one student left during this time, as the parents were kept well informed and were supportive of the staff efforts. 

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