The California wildfires have claimed tens of thousands of acres of beautiful land. They’ve destroyed homes and taken lives. Help is pouring in from across the country and around the world. And one high school in Napa is also doing its part — by saving the animals.
Vintage High School, proudly known as “Home of the Crushers!” sounds like any other American high school. I imagine the kids walk the halls glued to their Snapchats, eagerly awaiting Friday night’s football game, but Vintage High School is unique.
Emmalee Casillas, advisor and agriculture teacher at Vintage High School, tells Babble that among the school’s 1,200 students, approximately 140 of them are enrolled in her agriculture program, Napa FFA. And those are the kids making headlines this week as they help fight the devastation caused by wildfires.
It is at Vintage Farm, a small 10-acre farm in north Napa that Casillas’ students learn about animals. But as the fires began to ravage their community, curriculum has drastically changed. Casillas tells Babble that she and her students “have been working around the clock since Sunday night at 11PM” saving animals.
“We have been physically evacuating animals, going into active fire zones and placing them at our 10-acre farm facility as well as other evacuation centers around the county,” she tells Babble. Proudly adding, “The kids have been entirely self-directed on the organization and processing of incoming animals as I’ve been out on calls to evacuate animals. We are spending the nights in our small barn and vehicles to ensure that anyone needing to immediately evacuate has a place to hold their animals at all hours of the day.”
When asked how she and the team are doing, Casillas says, “We are tired, but we understand that there is a job to be done and people that need our help, so we are happy to be servant leaders to those around us.”
Wow! What an inspiring teacher and an amazing group of teenagers.
Casillas also shares that her students are still “learning,” although their lesson plans are obviously modified right now. “Currently, the kids have been focusing on the healthcare of the animals. We have taken in some that sustained injuries from the fires.” She says the animals are receiving wound and parasite treatment as part of their care. What an amazing real-life lesson for the kids in her agricultural program — having the opportunity to care for injured animals and know that they are doing their part.
Students are also responsible for “cleaning pens, feeding twice daily, walking dogs, organizing donations and supplies, and keeping constant inventory of animals,” Casillas tells Babble. “They came up with a system that works for them and understand that organization is key. I am happy to see that while I give them minimal direction, they are using their critical thinking skills and utilizing their resources. They are demonstrating learning by doing at its finest.”
As a former teacher myself, my heart bursts with pride hearing these words. This is what teaching is all about. Knowing that when things get real, our kids can go out into the world with the tools we have given them and make the world better. And the kids in Vintage High School’s agriculture program are doing just that.
If you’d like to help the good work being done by these kids (some of whom have lost their own homes), you can check out the Napa FFA Facebook page. Thank you to Emmalee Casillas and her students for their time, energy, and dedication to saving the animals of Napa.