Reesa Partida evacuated her Agoura Hills home early Friday morning to escape the Woolsey fire barreling toward the community.
A few hours later, the Van Nuys High School dance teacher was back at work, instructing the students of Room 424, as if it were a day like any other.
“I’d rather be dancing with my kids than sitting around watching the news and watching the mountains burn,” the 29-year-old said. “They’re special people.”
When her husband returned Saturday to check on their home, a modest one-bedroom unit they were renting inside a larger house, he found it reduced almost entirely to ash and rubble.
All that remains of Partida’s home are charred stone walls, ashes and the frames of a few belongings, such as her husband’s BMX bike.
Many irreplaceable mementos were lost, but in the end “they are just things,” she said.
Now, Partida’s dedication to her students is being repaid.
When her students learned Partida had lost her home, they knew they wanted to help their teacher. They set up a GoFundMe page for Partida, with the goal of raising up to $5,000.
Several students began texting each other asking what they should do to help “Mrs. Partida,” said Van Nuys High School senior Zoe Rodriguez, 17.
It was the only thing to do for a teacher who goes the extra mile for them, she said.
Everyone has their own reasons, Rodriguez said, and for her, it was because Partida gave her the confidence to pursue her interest in musical theater.
“She is definitely someone who encourages people to believe in themselves and to believe in our abilities — integral to who she is,” Rodriguez said. “This was what we needed to do for someone who has done so much for us.”
Partida, who was staying at her parents’ place in Van Nuys and busy searching for a new rental, said she was “blown away by the amount of love and support” coming from her students.
She is grateful for anything to help get her and her husband back on their feet, she said, and she knows there are others who are worse off.
“Everything we didn’t put in the car, we have to just start over, including finding a place to live — it’s just a lot,” she said.
Partida and her husband are avid cyclists, and enjoyed hiking the nearby trails in Malibu Creek State Park. “It was the perfect spot,” she said, but the possibility of a fire was always in the back of their minds.
“We always thought about it,” she said. “If this place burns, it’s going to burn. It has before.”
Earlier this year, for their May show, she helped her students choreograph dances that delved into the serious topics that were on their minds. One subject that many students wanted to explore was the devastating Thomas Fire and the subsequent Montecito mudslides in Santa Barbara. The dance that performed was set to singer Sia’s “haunting,” rendition of “California Dreamin’,” she said.
A post shared by Reesa Partida (@_reesa_ann_) on
Little did she know that the topic would hit so close to her own home, Partida said.
“It’s crazy that that’s me now, that we were portraying,” she said.
Partida has a bond with her students that was formed through their efforts to make art together.
“Room 424 is a special place for them,” she said. “It’s something they want to hold onto.”
Her students view their dance room as a “safe space,” where they have grown close because of the many hours they spend rehearsing, she said.
“You struggle together and you build these beautiful pieces of art together.”