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Students Raise Thousands To Help Teacher Whose Home Burned In The Woolsey Fire

The charred frame of a bicycle, with its wheels melted into puddles of aluminum, rests against a wall near the remnants of Reesa Partida's Agoura Hills home. She found out on Saturday, Nov. 10, that the Woolsey Fire had burned the house to the ground. (Photo courtesy of Reesa Partida) (Courtesy image)
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Reesa Partida fled her Agoura Hills home early Friday morning, with the Woolsey Fire flaring ominously in the nearby hills. By that afternoon, she still had no idea whether her house remained standing.

But Partida, 30, didn't want to spend the day sitting around on a cot in an evacuation center. When her students at Van Nuys High School showed up for their dance classes, Partida was there to teach them.

"I told them," she remembered, "'Guys, I'm totally distracted. I didn't sleep at all. I evacuated in the middle of the night, and I wanted to come dance with you.'"

Partida took refuge that Friday in a class that so many of her students already described as a safe haven.

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"She helped me get my confidence back," said senior Elizabeth Talledo, who's been taking Partida's classes since freshman year.

Partida is close with many of the students.

"She's someone who is genuinely interested in students," said senior Zoe Rodriguez.

"Any time that I'm feeling I need to talk about anything," said junior Brandon Large, "I go to her -- not as a dance student."

So when her students got word Saturday that Partida's home had burned down, they sprang into action.

Van Nuys High School teacher Reesa Partida (center, back row) poses with students from one of her dance classes. (Photo courtesy of Reesa Partida) (Courtesy Reesa Partida)

Talledo sent an Instagram message to two friends, Chelsea Saldana and Madison Opalisky, who were also in Partida's classes: "I want to help her. I want to create a GoFundMe" -- that is, a fundraiser on the website often used to raise money for victims of tragedy.

The girls contacted Large asking if he wanted to help. As it turns out, Large had the same idea and had already created a GoFundMe page for their teacher.

"It was really sad and just soul-shaking that she had to lose her house," said Large. "She's always so, so invested in all of us and she gives back to us in every way she can."

Together, the four students became "Team Partida" -- running the fundraising page and sending thank you notes to contributors. After three days, their GoFundMe page has raised more than $6,100 for Partida, most of it in increments between $5 and $50 donated by Partida's students.

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"I freak out whenever a donation comes," said Talledo, who gets a notification every time a new contribution arrives. "When I see the number go up, it makes me really, really happy because it just proves a lot of people really love her."

The support also pleases Rodriguez, who's taken Partida's dance classes in each of her four years at Van Nuys High School and is helping to spread word of the fundraiser.

"I always talk about how much this school is a community," she said, "and how much it really creates this home environment. I've never seen it put to the test like this and to see it really stand up to those claims, it's incredible."

Partida was renting the home with her husband and does have renter's insurance, which should help replace some of what she's lost: "A ton of books," kitchen supplies (she's an avid baker) and a rig she'd used to hang ropes and silks on when she'd perform acrobatic aerial dances.

There are the irreplaceable things, though: Partida's wedding dresses, artwork she'd created, precious paintings from her husband's grandparents.

What does she need right now? "I have no good answer to that question," Partida said. "We're okay for the immediate moment, because we have my parents who are letting us stay. They have toothpaste, they have soap. My mom is the same size I am, I can wear her pants."

Partida found out about the GoFundMe page from another teacher on Sunday, when the fundraiser had already amassed nearly $1,000 in donations.

"It's overwhelming," Partida said in a phone interview on Monday as she searched with her husband for a new place to live.

But, she added, "I'm not surprised that the kids did this. They are that kind of people."

If you're interested in helping others affected by the wildfires in Southern California, we've compiled a list here.

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