LocationAlhambra , CA
Jayson Pineda got the call from Alhambra High School Principal Marisa Palacios around 7:30 on the morning of Jan. 2. The news wasn’t good.
All of the district’s schools were on break and many involved with the district had spent New Year’s Day celebrating the Alhambra Unified School District 2020 Rose Parade Marching Band’s triumphant participation on the 131st Tournament of Roses Parade. The band was led by AHS Band Director Mark Trulson.
But during the early hours of Jan. 2, there was a fire at Alhambra High School and the A building, used primarily for several key administrative offices, was badly damaged and won’t be in use for the rest of the school year. The fire had apparently been started in a space heater in one of the administrative offices.
Superintendent of Schools Denise R. Jaramillo said she believed it was “the biggest fire we have dealt with during my 33 years with the district.”
The A building also housed four classrooms above the badly-burned first floor offices and one of those belonged to Pineda, an influential ceramic teacher who has been at Alhambra High School since 2012.
Pineda feared the worst.
He clearly loves ceramics and is working for his master’s at Cal State LA.
A quote on his web page reflects his feelings: “There’s something special about clay. It’s a more intimate experience. You envelope your hands in it and can mold what your heart desires. You bring life into the world….you create your own world.”
The first thing that Pineda thought of after he heard the news was “How am I going to be able to save my students work.” Much of the damage to Pineda’s room was smoke related which, in some ways limited the loss.
He has 180 students through five class periods and all class levels including beginning, advanced and AP for college. Each student is assigned two projects a school year and what Pineda lost was mainly student sketch books with drawings of the ceramics.
And, perhaps most important to him he lost a wall of memories in the form of project notes, pictures of kids with their work and thank you notes from those he’ taught in his nearly eight years at Alhambra High School.
What he didn’t lose were the ceramic moulds themselves. They survived and many of them will soon be ready for the kiln.
“Kids were on edge at first and we figured things out early,” Pineda said. “Kids were excited to save the ceramics. Supplies and equipment can be replaced.”
Other teachers housed in the A building weren’t so lucky. A drawing teacher lost everything and her AP classes needed that work for college filings at the end of the year. A speech and debate teacher lost scores of trophies Alhambra students had won over the years in competition.
Pineda remarked on the great job that Alhambra Unified staff and administrators were doing to create a sense of business as usual at the school quickly moving classrooms and offices to new locations and providing supplies to move forward. The district is working with its insurance provider on the damage but there are some things insurance may not cover.
Tammy Scorcia, President of the Alhambra Teacher’s Association, visited the school several times in the first week to see how things we going and to offer encouragement to teachers and staff, including those who had been displaced.
“The fire at AHS was one that brings light to the connection educators have to their school sites and how they see their classrooms as a safe space, protected from the unexpected tragedy,” she told Alhambra Source.
“We see this in how they make their rooms a welcoming space for students and for themselves. In some cases they bring in family artifacts, rare finds or important documents to share with student and in the process build an enhanced educational experience.”
Pineda is also the advisor for the school’s gaming club, which is a member of the North Atlantic Scholastic E-Sports Federation and much of the club’s equipment—stored in his classroom—was lost in the fire.
With its 60 active members, Pineda sees gaming as a way to build community in the school regardless of perceived emotional, physical or linguistic limitations. Much of the club’s equipment was in Pineda’s class and wasn’t able to be saved. Losses include 10 gaming laptops and 20 headsets, 10 gaming consoles, 3 flat screen TVs, 40 game controllers, 68 games. Nearly three weeks after the fire, help for the gaming club was still unable to operate on any level and Pineda expressed concerns that it would remain that way for the rest of the school year.
He said that moving has been difficult but he’s grateful that he’s been able to record much of his curriculum and much of the work on computer.
“The fresh start,” he says, “is valuable in allowing me and other teachers to rethink, reflect and forge ahead with revamped lesson plans.”
ATA President Scorscia said she thought that teachers may have learned something of value from the tragedy.
“I believe the fire caused many to reflect on the reality that the classroom is vulnerable to unexpected loss, just as your home can be…The fire has made many more mindful that they need to think about ways to protect or store precious items—either their own or students— in the future.”
The Alhambra Teachers Association is collecting donations to replace lost items in the fire. To donate, please call ATA at 626-289-1933.