Friday, February 27, 2009

S.C. teen, rural town in spotlight after letter urging stimulus money to salvage her school

Dillon, S.C., population 6,300, and one of its students themselves on the receiving end of the national attention this week, after President Barack Obama read parts of a letter by eighth-grader Ty'Sheoma Bethea in his speech to Congress. Bethea, a 14-year-old at J.V. Martin Junior High School, urged Congress to pass the stimulus bill in order to help out her financially struggling school, writing in the part Obama quoted, "We are just students trying to become lawyers, doctors, congressmen like yourself and one day president, so we can make a change to not just the state of South Carolina but also the world. We are not quitters." In his campaign, Obama had pointed to the plight of rural schools in South Carolina.

At the speech Tuesday, Bethea sat next to First Lady Michelle Obama and watched as the president read her words, after which, Fitzgerald writes, "the audience of congressmen, Supreme Court justices and others erupted in a standing ovation" for her. (Associated Press photo)

The story has a journalism angle. Howard Witt, a Southern correspondent for the Chicago Tribune, told Mark Fitzgerald of Editor & Publisher that he went to Dillon a few weeks prior to report on how the stimulus package would affect the school, which he described in an article as "a decrepit facility where the roof leaks and winter classroom temperatures hover in the 50s." When asking students their thoughts on the package, "Ty'Sheoma and one other student were the only ones who seemed to have a clue about the bill," Witt said. Following the conversation, Bethea went to the public library to write the letter, which made its way to the White House. For Witt's Feb. 11 story, click here; for Fitzgerald's, here.

UPDATE, March 1: Frank Rich writes in The New York Times that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke grew up in Dillon. "The school’s auditorium, now condemned, was the site of Bernanke’s high school graduation. Dillon is now so destitute that Bernanke’s middle-class childhood home was just auctioned off in a foreclosure sale. Unemployment is at 14.2 percent." Rich blasts South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, who opposes Obama's stimulus package and is refusing its money: "He accused the three Republican senators who voted for it of sabotaging “the future of our civilization.” In his mind the future of civilization has little to do with the future of students like Ty’Sheoma Bethea." (Read more)

No comments: