Philadelphia News & Search
Brittany Jacobs gravitates towards people who need something extra.
At church, she is a member of the nursing home ministry, giving up part of her weekends to sing, pray, and talk with elderly people who love her company. And her life’s work — the thing her family and friends know she was born to do — is teaching Philadelphia students with special needs.
“She has a gift, and she loves those children,” said Ivy Lewis, a close family friend who has known Jacobs since Jacobs was a girl. “She’s a sweetheart. Anyone who comes in contact with her knows that.”
Jacobs was critically injured in a bus crash on May 15. The special-education teacher at C.W. Henry School was chaperoning the eighth-grade class trip when the tour bus she and 26 students were traveling in was clipped by a car trying to pass it. The bus crashed into an embankment and trees, flipping over at least once before it came to rest over several lanes of southbound I-95.
The crash investigation is ongoing.
Jacobs, 28, was thrown from the bus. She was airlifted to the Baltimore hospital where she remains in critical condition. A ventilator helps her breathe, and she remains in a medically induced coma much of the time to keep the swelling in her brain down. Her prognosis is not known.
“We’re just praying and hoping right now,” said Lewis, who was authorized by Jacobs’ family to speak to the Inquirer and Daily News. “She’s just trying to fight through.”
Jacobs means much to the Henry community. At a recent middle school dance, principal Fatima Rogers looked up to see Jacobs on the dance floor, delighting students as usual. She’s the teacher who stands in the hallway during transitions, making sure kids get to where they need to be.
“She’s a great person and a warm spirit,” Rogers said. “She’s the life of the party. She’s just really in touch with the kids.”
The warm relationships she has with students also make her a strong teacher, Rogers said. Jacobs uses real-world examples to make things like algebraic equations important to her pupils, the principal said, and is generous with her time.
“She comes in at the end of the day to check in with children,” said Rogers. “She’s always available to them.”
Teaching, said Lewis, “is in Brittany’s genes.” Her mother, Lynn, is a lead teacher at A.B. Day School in East Germantown; her aunt Diane Roberts Childs was a school counselor for many years at Hartranft School in North Philadelphia. She was frequently found playing school when she was a little girl.
Jacobs attended Holy Cross School in East Mount Airy and then Central High, where she was secretary of Class 265. She went on to Temple University and Cabrini College, where she earned degrees in education. In 2010, she began working as a teacher in Philadelphia, and in 2011, she was teaching kids at Henry, a K-8 not far from her Germantown home, in West Mount Airy.
Jacobs is close to her large extended family. She loved her father, Bryant, who died two years ago, and her two older siblings, sister LaTia Jacobs Harrington and brother Bryant. But she is especially tight with her mother, whom she lives with.
“Their bond is unreal,” said Lewis. The two love to shop together, to eat at restaurants, and to volunteer together. The Jacobs family are members of Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church, and Brittany, her mother, and aunt Carol Roberts Keller travel to nursing homes on weekends, brightening seniors’ days.
“The senior citizens look forward to having them come, and they look forward to going to visit the senior citizens,” said Lewis.
Jacobs is an avid traveler, too. She’s a fan of the beach, and had just made arrangements to go to Jazz Fest in New Orleans in July.
“She had her tickets,” Lewis said. “That was her goal — to finish out the school year and to go to New Orleans.”
But before that, there was work to do. Jacobs is the sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade learning support teacher, working with students who have special needs. There was the trip, the school fair, and graduation.
Tee Williams’ son had Jacobs as a teacher five years ago. Tra’von is now in high school, but he remembers his Henry teacher, who was new to the profession then, as an “awesome person.”
“He never forgets the ones who were kind to him,” said Williams. “She never looked down on the children.”
When the family got word that Jacobs had been injured in the crash, her aunt was working in her garden. She dropped what she was doing and picked up her sisters, and the trio sped to Maryland.
“They called me from the road,” Lewis said. “They said, ‘Did you look at the news? That’s Brittany.’” The bus crash snarled traffic on I-95 for hours; the sisters snaked through local roads to finally arrive at the hospital. They had no idea what to expect.
Jacobs is too ill to be moved closer to home; her family “can’t leave her, and they won’t.” Though they can’t be in her room at all times, they stay at the hospital all day to make sure they never miss doctors when they stop by, and to be there for Brittany in case of emergency.
The family is shuffling from hotel to borrowed rooms to hotel. They left with only the clothes on their backs; they’ve had to purchase clothes and food. Lynn and Brittany are on indefinite leave from work. A GoFundMe has been started to raise money for their expenses for however long they’ll be in Maryland.
Hooked up to monitors, with a tube down her throat, Jacobs underwent surgery to relieve pressure on her brain. Part of her skull is still open; she must wear a helmet. She cannot speak, but she did open her eyes once. She has responded to people she loves, following a few simple commands — giving a thumbs up, for instance.
Three of Jacobs’ closest friends went to Maryland when they heard about the accident. Some of her loved teacher colleagues visited her, too. Her family prays with her, sings to her, talks to her.
And on Sunday, she delighted her visitors. She sat up in a chair for the first time since her injury. Her mother was singing her a hymn, and Lynn Jacobs fumbled the words.
“Brittany,” Lewis said, “raised her hand.”
Lynn Jacobs is emotional, but her sisters anchor her. Carol and Diane remain strong for their sister, and for Brittany.
“They bear up so they can keep Lynn together,” Lewis said. “They’ll cry on the phone with me.”
Lewis and the family also worry about the Henry children — the two who still remain hospitalized, those who have been released from the hospital, and those who sustained only minor injuries, but who remain shaken by what they saw. Another teacher, a close friend of Jacobs’, was also treated at a Maryland hospital and will miss the rest of the school year.
The Henry students have made dozens of cards and a huge banner for Jacobs. Her special-education pupils in particular want to know when they can visit.
“They are so sad,” Rogers said. “They just want to know, ‘Is Ms. Jacobs going to be OK?'”
For Jacobs’ family, faith is paramount. And they believe in Brittany.
“She’s young, and she took very good care of herself,” Lewis said. “We’re very hopeful.”
Philadelphia News & Search