Letter from the heart lands teen in first lady’s box for tonight’s speech
By Howard Witt | Tribune correspondent
9:34 PM CST, February 24, 2009
First Lady Michelle Obama hugs Ty’Sheoma Bethea, an 8th grader from Dillon, S.C., as President Barack Obama introduces her to a joint session of Congress. Obama invited the teenager to Washington after she sent a letter to Congress about the economic stimulus package. (Getty photo by Alex Wong / February 24, 2009)
HOUSTON—I met Ty’Sheoma Bethea, the teenage girl invited by President Barack Obama to sit beside the First Lady during his speech to Congress on Tuesday night, quite by accident a couple of weeks ago.
I was visiting the J.V. Martin Junior High School in Dillon, S.C., a decrepit facility where the roof leaks and winter classroom temperatures hover in the 50s, to learn about how one impoverished school district was hoping for some financial help from the stimulus bill then being debated in Congress.
I knocked on the door of a rusting mobile-classroom trailer where an 8th-grade social studies class was under way, and the teacher graciously allowed me to interrupt his lesson. When I asked the students whether they knew anything about Congress and the fiercely contested stimulus bill, Ty’Sheoma was one of the few students to raise her hand.
“All I know is that the Congress might not agree that we need help and they might deny the president the money he needs to help us,” the 14-year-old explained.
Dying S.C. school sees Obama stimulus plan as lifeline
Ty’Sheoma’s letter Later that evening, after our exchange in her classroom, Ty’Sheoma decided to walk to the town library. She sat down in front of a computer and typed out a single-spaced letter which began, “Dear Congress of the United States.”
In rough but passionate prose, the teenager beseeched the faceless representatives to help her school.
“People are starting to see my school as an hopeless, uneducated school which we are not,” Ty’Sheoma wrote. “We finally want to prove to the world that we have an chance in life just like other schools and we can feel good about what we are doing because of the conditions we are in now we can not succeed in anything.”
The next morning, Feb. 11, Ty’Sheoma gave her letter to Amanda Burnette, the principal of the school. Burnette promptly scanned it and e-mailed copies to South Carolina’s representatives in Congress, as well as the White House. I featured Ty’Sheoma’s letter in the story I wrote that night about the J.V. Martin school.
Obama was already personally familiar with the dire conditions at the school, which was built in 1896 and has been partially condemned. He visited J.V. Martin twice during the presidential campaign and mentioned it again during his first presidential news conference.
Ty’Sheoma’s letter made its way to the president’s desk, and last week, he invited the teenager and her mother to sit in First Lady Michelle Obama’s mezzanine box in the House of Representatives to watch the president’s first address to Congress.
Ty’sheoma smiled as the president read out some of her words from her letter.
“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,'” Obama said. “We are not quitters.”
At that, the audience rose to give the teenager a standing ovation.
Monday, May 4, 2009
Run-down SC school featured by Obama gets facelift
Here’s a heartwarming story to scrub Bachmann and Scarborough out of your brain.
DILLON, S.C.—Students who had grown resigned to old, “nasty” furnishings at their dilapidated middle school in rural South Carolina were elated Monday to find new furniture and a freshly painted cafeteria, thanks to a student’s plea, a president’s speech and a businessman’s response.
“I was amazed. They changed the whole thing,” said J.V. Martin Junior High eighth-grader Jessica Manning, 13. “It let me know somebody cares about us.”
President Barack Obama brought national attention to the school Feb. 24 in his first address to Congress when he read a letter from eighth-grader Ty’Sheoma Bethea asking for help replacing her run-down school.
Bethea had addressed her letter to Congress, so her principal sent it to the White House and South Carolina’s congressional delegation.
Darryl Rosser, CEO of classroom furniture supplier Sagus International, called Principal Amanda Burnette the day after Obama read Bethea’s plea. After visiting the campus four weeks ago, Rosser said he knew he had to do what he could.
Over the weekend, Sagus sent nearly 2,000 pieces of furniture on four tractor-trailer loads. Volunteers worked throughout the weekend to put the surprise together, including a final coat of paint about 8 p.m. Sunday.
The furniture, plus setup and shipping by Sagus partners, was worth an estimated $250,000, Rosser said.
On Monday, Rosser said students’ reactions made it all worthwhile.
“It was heartwarming,” he said, smiling widely.
Posted by Paddy at 5:00 PM
Oh my! That is a tear jerker! I am so happy for the students. I am grateful for everyone who made it possible.
May 4, 2009 5:39 PM
Yep, the guy did a good thing and got paid back big time in happy.
May 4, 2009 5:46 PM
yes, am intimately familiar with the south carolina school system. Dirtbags!!! So once again the private sector steps in to fix the problem.
May 4, 2009 6:00 PM
Dr. Toketee said…
Is anyone noticing? Wherever Obama meets people and learns their plight, when it becomes public, others are inspired to help them. Oh, wait – there was one exception: Joe the Plumber. Others came to EXPLOIT him.
May 4, 2009 6:13 PM
Yeah, reminds me of Jesus.
May 4, 2009 6:20 PM
maybe soon into the near future one day these stories won’t be an anomaly….but the norm in most American public school….in educating and caring for our kids.
May 4, 2009 9:24 PM
Sweet story – very happy for the students and their wonderful benefactor.
May 4, 2009 9:40 PM