WOODLAND PARK, Colo. — After learning that Teller County fire responders were in immediate need of support in fighting the High Park fire, Woodland Park School District (WPSD) devised a plan to provide much-needed volunteers.

Dr. Mathew Neal, Superintendent of Schools at WPSD, organized the plan to aid in the support by calling out to WPSD staff to assist at the incident command center located at 4 Mile Fire Station in Teller County. The plan consists of closing one elementary school each day from May 17 through May 19 to allow willing school staff members to support the brave men and women fighting the High Park Fire.

Gateway Elementary teachers and staff standing in front of a tent they helped raise

Additionally, on Friday, May 20, the middle school and high school staff will help as released by their principals and as the need warrants. Each building will remain open for the District’s Preschool and Center-Based programs.

“A crisis rarely arises at a convenient time; however, I am incredibly grateful for a staff eager to respond and lend a helping hand to our responders,” said Dr. Neal. “WPSD staff are incredibly dedicated to this community in every way, particularly when stepping up to a challenge. We are a team and absolutely dedicated to our families and students of our schools both in and out of the school environment.”

Woodland Park High School was used as a shelter for several dozen families during the evacuation period. Dr. Neal saw helping out the firefighters as a humble opportunity for his staff to give back to the community.

“We have actual families that are being evacuated from their schools and they didn’t know what to do as a teacher who has a child in their class that their family is being evacuated so it was really a strategic decision by our team to be able to cancel school for one day and allow those teachers to give back and to give to the firefighters and to give to those community members and kind of a coming together of the teaching team, they loved it, they had a fabulous time giving back,” Dr. Neal added.

He said the county commissioners came to the superintendent to see if they could offer up some volunteers. The school district is the third-largest employer in Teller County. The Woodland Park School District staff helped with staging, meals, and getting supplies out to the firefighters.

Michelle Miller, a Kindergarten teacher at Gateway Elementary, said, “I’m so excited about this-what an awesome idea.”

The Rocky Mountain Complex Incident Management Team One expressed their gratitude to the communities of Teller County on Tuesday in a Facebook post, which showed teachers and staff from WPSD volunteering their time at the Incident Command Post.

3rd Grade Teacher Caron Smerkonich said she’s been teaching about making a difference in this world and about being kind to one another so this opportunity to help the firefighters fit perfectly with her lesson plans. She added when you see a need, you fill a need. She’s leading by example and hoping students will volunteer as well. Her message is that in times of crisis a community should come together.

“It doesn’t matter what it is whether it is a pandemic or a fire emergency, we are so adept up here in Woodland Park anymore for evacuating and being ready just the camaraderie like Gateway and Woodland Park School District overall we are family so whatever it is, we stop drop and we help,” Caron Smerkonich said.

Smerkonich said it was an amazing opportunity and she would do it all over again in a heartbeat but it also made her appreciate her job in the classroom too.