After many harsh winter months of torrential downpour and raging storms, Big Sur is left in shambles: a bridge demolished due to its decrepit state, the constant threat and existence of landslides and damaged, unpassable roads. Among the 450 currently trapped, as reported by KSBW, between the now-nonexistent Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge to the north and the landslides to the south, eight Carmel High School students have just regained access to buses that will transport them to school.
According to CHS assistant principal Tom Parry, there are a total of 26 CHS students who normally live south of the bridge, which was damaged beyond repair due to heavy rains in January and February, thus leading to its demolition on March 17. Eighteen of these students are now living with host families north of the bridge and all around Monterey County.
One of these refugees is freshman William Gafill, who normally lives south of Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge, but was luckily able to evacuate with his mother to a friend’s home in Monterey, before access across the bridge was denied.
“The only real disadvantage to the whole situation is a bit of added stress,” Gafill says.
Similarly, senior Caroline Mierzwa has been away from her home in Big Sur for over a month, now staying in Pebble Beach. She has been unable to visit her parents and has taken over certain family and personal functions.
“I have been pretty much running all the errands, paying bills and doing shopping for myself and my parents,” Mierzwa says. “It’s like college life except I really can’t go home or see my parents.
One CHS student had been infrequently hiking out from the southern side of the gap left by the bridge to the northern, which is technically not allowed. He feared his chances of not being caught up in school, thus causing his illegal crossing. He is currently the only current CHS student who has done this, but he does not plan to again as there are now CUSD teachers in Big Sur.
Now the eight students can return to the high school campus by bus. The eight will be able to hike out, using the Pfeiffer bypass trail; however, before they had the opportunity to do this, the Carmel Unified School District had provided a couple of teachers to assist and teach the students in their everyday studies. One of these teachers is former CUSD educator Anne-Marie Rosen.
“I believe that I am prepared for this situation as much as anyone can be prepared to work in a disaster,” Rosen says. “I love kids and teaching. I don’t mind advocating for those who I believe are unable to speak for themselves. It takes a certain kind of person to live in any remote location and the people of Big Sur will grow from this challenge.”
Rosen and Julie Kolofer, the principal of Captain Cooper Elementary School, were being helicoptered in and out of Big Sur to teach in a conference room and live at the Post Ranch Inn, with different grades being taught at separate times throughout the day, according to Parry.
Parry predicted that the modifications to the students’ education will not be substantial enough so they do not meet course standards; they were not participating in certain assignments such as group projects. Additionally, the district had provided students down the coast with all of the proper materials and supplies for their respective classes.
“There’s a crazy long back road going through Nacimiento, so the district loaded up supplies in a van and drove through there, so that when Ms. Rosen arrived she’d have pencil, paper and supplies to teach with,” Parry says.
Some teachers, such as CHS English teacher Hans Schmidt, had uploaded videos online for their stranded students to view, reducing the likelihood of being caught behind when able to return to school; however, Schmidt jokes that his one student has not taken full advantage of his uploads as they remain unviewed.
Art teacher Steven Russell has had his two students complete drawings from home in Big Sur, playing on their experiences while they were trapped.
The students trapped had no expectation for a date where they will be able to return to school, just as those staying with host families do not know when they can come home. Both administrators and students were optimistic that they will be able to carry on with their individual studies for the remainder of the time. Fortunately, it worked out as the students returned to normally scheduled school.