SANTA ROSA (CBS SF) – Life in the North Bay was continuing a gradual move back to normalcy Friday in the wake of the Wine Country wildfires as students from 13 Santa Rosa schools returned to class after nearly three weeks away.

The schools that reopened Friday are Albert F. Biella, Brook Hill, Luther Burbank, Hidden Valley, Helen Lehman, Abraham Lincoln, James Monroe, Proctor Terrace and Steele Lane elementary schools, in addition to Santa Rosa Accelerated Charter, Rincon Valley Middle School, Maria Carrillo High School and Piner High School.

But Friday wasn’t about the students picking up where they left off; it was about picking up the pieces and pushing on.

Students return to Piner High in Santa Rosa (CBS)

At Piner High, the lesson plan is more focused on the heart than the mind. Teacher Zoe Miller had her students write about their emotions after the destructive fires.

One student wrote, “Moving forward to me is staying calm when I hear sirens.” Another wrote, “It’s about helping out.”

Miller is also pulling from personal experience. She lost her home and everything in it.

Two days ago she told us she wasn’t ready to go back. But much like the rebuilding process itself, Miller said it was better than expected.

“Its tough, but its going to get better. Every day has been better,” said Miller.

For so many, moving forward is getting used to a new normal.

“It’s good to see everyone’s face, knowing everyone’s okay,” said Piner High senior Grayson Ponce.

“It was pretty rough we lost our home we lived in the Coffey Park area,” said student Nick Howard.

Friends have become roommates.

“I feel blessed to be able to take friends in,” said Ponce.

What would’ve been big moments for high school seniors have been put on hold.

“I play football. We lost two games. That was hard. So I only have one more game of football left my senior year,” said student Alex Tait.

“It feels weird because I am used to my normal routine. It was weird coming from my aunt’s house,” said Piner High student Leslie Garnica through tears.

Garnica’s home is one of thousands that burned down in the fire that ripped through Santa Rosa. She is one of at least 80 students at the high school who lost nearly everything.

“I just never thought that I wasn’t going to see my house any more,” the teen said. “I had my first steps there. I did everything there.”

As doors reopen across Santa Rosa city schools, counselors will be on hand to help students cope.

Piner High principal Tim Zalunardo told KPIX 5 teachers will work out how to make up for three weeks of lost school time.

But right now, they’re focused on providing emotional support to those who need it.

“Sometimes that’s a quick hug. Sometimes that’s a chat on the side. So they are just going to adjust. They are ready to meet what students need,” said Zalunardo.

“I feel like I’ve gotten support, a lot of love from people I didn’t even know,” said Garnica.

Schools that will re-open Monday are Hilliard Comstock Middle School, Cesar Chavez Language Academy, Lawrence Cook Middle School, Santa Rosa Charter School for the Arts, Santa Rosa French-American Charter School, Santa Rosa Middle School, Herbert Slater Middle School and Lewis Preschool, as well as Ridgway, Montgomery, Elsie Allen and Santa Rosa high schools.

Elsie Allen High School and Lawrence Cook Middle School served as shelters during the evacuations caused by the Tubbs and Nuns fires, which started Oct. 8 and are expected to be fully contained Friday.

Schools in Kenwood are scheduled to reopen Friday, and the Geyserville Unified and Piner Olivet Union school districts’ schools are scheduled to open Monday.

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  1. To the student in Jessica Flores’ report at Piner High School who said, “Moving forward to me is staying calm when I hear sirens!” 50 yrs ago I was critically injured in a car accident, for years after, every time I heard a siren I would panic and re-live what I remembered of the accident. One day someone asked me why i was so upset and when I told them they said, “You should be happy to hear a siren, it means help is on the way!” From that moment on whenever I hear a siren, I DON’T panic, instead I say a little prayer for all and know HELP IS ON THE WAY!