A group of people standing around a long table filled with food.

Many teachers and support staff from Knott County School District have made and served hundreds of meals for those in need in the wake of catastrophic flooding in eastern Kentucky. Photo submitted by Hunter Combs, Aug. 18, 2022.

I spent July 26 like many other teenagers in Knott County – talking with friends, enjoying the last few days of summer break, yet excited for a new school year.

Around 11:30 p.m., we all received a notification saying that our area was on a flood watch. No biggie! It happens all the time. Our area is known for flooding, but nothing like what was about to happen. Little did I know that things would go a little differently for me and for my high school, Knott County Central, that night.

That next morning, July 27, my teacher sent a notification on Remind (an app teachers use to communicate with students) asking if I would be interested in volunteering for my high school’s registration day. I’ve always volunteered at every event I can because I love helping people. I responded yes and we had a date set two weeks from then.

For hours, we watched the rain fall continuously. People’s houses, cars and possessions were washed away. Everything was floating down the river, and my school was no different. Nobody ever imagined that our school, due to its geographical location, would endure such havoc.

When we woke up on July 28, pictures of the wreckage swarmed social media. Our school had been destroyed. A place full of amazing memories was now a mud-filled building. The hallways we once walked had become rivers and our classrooms were no longer suitable for students. 

A million questions were asked at once: “Are we going back this year?” “Will we be virtual? And is that even an option?” No one knew anything.

I didn’t know what the future would hold then. I now know that not only was my high school affected, but my elementary school as well. The school I called home for more than 10 years (pre-K through 8th grade) had lost everything, including the classroom that my little sister was going to call her own in just a few short weeks.

Right now, we don’t know when we are going back to school. When we do go, we’ll be missing Aaron Crawford, who died suddenly Aug. 5 after several days helping others clean up from the flooding. I had him in my geometry class last year. He was such an inspiration to all. You never caught him not smiling and laughing. I’m going to miss seeing him every day.

Many families may still feel hopeless. The school was a safe place for so many people, including myself. Our safe place is well, unless you find safety in mud and lots of bacteria-filled, yucky water not as safe anymore. For some people, the schools became the least of their problems. They no longer have a house and are relying on community resources for survival.

But in all of this immense darkness, there is still hope. 

A boy smiling while talking.

Hunter Combs

Some of our elementary schools turned into places of refuge, where students and their families can go to get water, food and supplies. Even my high school, which a week ago was filled with water, now serves as a site for homemade meals for our students. Several Knott County High School football, basketball and softball players and cheerleaders were handing out supplies and unloading the trucks. 

In the darkness that we were put under, amazing people are shining.

I like to say that this is all thanks to our school staff. It’s our school staff who are giving out resources. They are working unpaid, but that never mattered to them because making a positive difference in the world was more important than a paycheck could ever be. It’s our kitchen staff who are making hundreds and hundreds of meals for those who need them. Many of these teachers and support staff have lost their homes themselves, but they have not wavered in support of their students. 

This has been a hard time for us all as we watch our communities, our homes and our lives be forever changed. It will take years to come back from all of this; and in some ways, we will never come all the way back. Yet we will be stronger and it is our schools that are making it all possible. 

I do honestly believe that as a student a goofy 16-year-old who loves space, rockets and science our schools are our future. I hope that you can see that too. 

Thank a teacher for what they do for our future. And for all of the teachers and staff helping students and families during this time, I would like to personally say thank you. 

Hunter Combs is an 11th-grade student at Knott County Central High School and a member of the Kentucky Department of Education’s Commissioner’s Student Advisory Council.