There is no formula or guide for dealing with a tragedy of this magnitude.
As we look for answers as a community to the enigmatic "why," we will never come to any kind of comforting answer. As I contemplated what to post on social media a few hours after the horrific bus accident on Talley Road, I felt so helpless in trying to convey genuinely my heartache as a father, as an educator and as a relatively new member of this community. What could I possibly say, in a tweet of all things, to comfort a reeling and heartbroken community? In the end, it was somewhat cliché and probably only read by others also struggling with the feeling of impotence as to how to help or comfort those most in need of it.
I wish I could say I'm a stranger to situations like this. In my career as an educator, I've attended the funerals of students on five occasions and served as a pallbearer once in the most heart-wrenching walk of my life. But nothing nothing ever prepares you for the next time. What I have learned is, in a shock to the system kind of way, that the value of the time we are privileged to care for and educate children becomes exponentially more meaningful. It adds an additional sense of urgency to help our students feel safe and valued and to create lives that are thriving, not just surviving.
Interim Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Kirk Kelly's decision to hold classes the day after the accident was the right one; it is a testament to the emotional and physical support system our schools are for many students. Schools are a harbor of care beyond academics. Teachers, administrators and staff bring a level of emotional investment to their work that is only rivaled in a few other occupations such as the ministry. If there was ever a time to rally around our schools, our educators — our front line in the battle for our children's future — it is now.
In the past, I've written about education in our community moving from an economic imperative to a moral imperative, and it's unnatural times like this that highlight the significance of our charge as a community to do all within our power to make the 13-plus years we care for students a meaningful time.
Heartbreak is about loss. This loss is one that will remain with us for at least a generation, and for the families it will remain for a lifetime.
I ask that we don't just carry this memory, but that we honor it as a reminder of the sacred charge we have been given as a community to support our students and educators.
Let this be a catalyst of purpose that focuses us on finding a collective meaning in the madness of this grief and frustration. Most of the time our societal attention is consumed by a bundle of big, abstract items like policy, politics and pop culture, but let us not forget that there are 44,000 individual students and 3,200 individual educators who walk in our schools every day who can use some undivided attention like never before.
Jared Bigham is coordinator of Chattanooga 2.0.