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Jim Rex Politicking: As Good As It Gets…

March 19, 2009

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Dillon student donates dress and jewelry to South Carolina State Museum

COLUMBIA – In January, she captured the heart of a nation as she sat
next to the First Lady during President Barack Obama’s opening address
to a joint session of Congress. Since then, she’s been interviewed on
CNN, ABC’s “Good Morning, America,” Inside Edition and the CBS
Evening News – all to bring attention to the plight of her rural school.

She is Ty’Sheoma Bethea, an eighth-grade student at J. V. Martin
Junior High School, and today she donated the lavender dress that she
wore in Washington to the South Carolina State Museum.

Prior to the president’s speech, the 14-year-old was an unassuming
student at the Dillon District 2 school. But after being spotlighted in
the president’s speech, she has become a symbol of Obama’s call to
improve education as part of his economic recovery package.

During her first visit to the State Museum, Ty’Sheoma said, “The
donation means a lot to me. By giving it to the museum to restore, my
children and grandchildren will be able to see it, and it becomes a part
of history.”

Ty’Sheoma commended her teachers, administrators, parents and
community for wanting the best for Dillon’s young people. “We are
doing the best we can with what we have, but we need better.”

State Superintendent of Education Jim Rex praised the teenager for her
courage and for taking her message to the nation. “What Ty’Sheoma
has done should serve to remind others about the need to do the right
thing and to move with a sense of urgency. We’re proud of her.”

Ty’Sheoma was invited to join the First Family for the address to
Congress after she sent a letter to Washington seeking help for her
school, which is located in South Carolina’s rural “Corridor of
Shame.” She wrote her letter on a computer at the Dillon public
library after Obama mentioned J.V. Martin in his first press conference
as an example of inadequate schools that would be helped by the federal
economic stimulus plan.

Near the end of his speech to Congress, the president pointed out
Ty’Sheoma in the gallery.

“I think about Ty’Sheoma Bethea, the young girl from that school I
visited in Dillon, South Carolina – a place where the ceilings leak,
the paint peels off the walls, and they have to stop teaching six times
a day because the train barrels by their classroom,” Obama said.
“She has been told that her school is hopeless, but the other day
after class she went to the public library and typed up a letter to the
people sitting in this room. She even asked her principal for the money
to buy a stamp.

“The letter asks us for help, and says, ‘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.’ ”

Accompanied in the gallery by her mother, Dina, the student received
hugs from the first lady as President Obama recounted the letter the
teenager sent Congress asking for assistance to replace her dilapidated
school. The oldest section is 113 years old.

J.V. Martin principal Amanda Burnette said that Ty’Sheoma’s outfit
and her letter will become a permanent part of the South Carolina
Leaders and Heroes display.

“How amazing that a little girl from Dillon’s voice has been heard
so loudly by so many,” she said.

According to Burnette, the designer of the dress, Byer California in
San Francisco, has donated a replacement dress and jacket to Ty’Sheoma
as well as several other dresses.

“It was Ty’Sheoma’s initiative and thoughts that inspired the events
that lead to her recognition,” said Joel Feldman, president of Byer
California. “For that we applaud her and hope she continues her efforts
to become whoever she truly desires to be.”

State Museum officials are not sure when the dress will be displayed.

Cindy Clark
Office of Communications
South Carolina Department of Education

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