So Whatever Happened to Ty’Sheoma Bethea and Her School in South Carolina?
Her school will finally be rebuilt, but Ty’Sheoma will not be there to see it happen, or to walk through its doors on the first day of classes. Her mother lost her job in August 2009 when she was laid off from her job assembling ambulances. The family no longer lives in Dillon. And Ty’Sheoma’s growing up–she entered high school this fall. Occasionally, at functions like these pictured at the below right, Ty’Sheoma will be invited to attend.
Ty’Sheoma Bethea, now 15, received her invitation two days before Obama’s speech, and most of Dillon, S.C., helped prepare her for the trip. She owned only jeans, so school administrators bought her two dresses. She splurged on a fancy haircut. A friend gave her new tennis shoes to wear on the airplane.
J.V. Martin Junior High School held an assembly to celebrate her return, and 300 students cheered Bethea. She stood in the gym, a converted boxing arena with a leaky ceiling and a wooden floor that buckles and slopes, and regaled classmates with stories of visiting the White House bowling alley and posing for pictures with the president. Obama had visited J.V. Martin twice while campaigning, once spending two hours touring the decrepit building in 2007, and Bethea believed her visit had confirmed the inevitable: “He’s getting us a new school,” she told classmates.
Dillon, population 6,500, enjoyed a buoyancy it hadn’t experienced in decades, residents said. A Chicago company donated $250,000 worth of school furniture, installing new desks in the middle of the night. Bethea gave speeches and accepted scholarships. Architects and CEOs flew in to propose plans for a new school. Gone would be the condemned auditorium with busted-out windows, the cold classrooms in mobile trailers and the dirt playing fields surrounded by barbed-wire fencing. School officials contemplated a $55 million proposal called the 21st Century Promise: a 100-acre “community campus” funded in part by government money, where the doors would remain open 24 hours to allow access to a swim center, a community center and a laundromat.
“They said people would be coming from China to look at this school,” Dillon Mayor Todd Davis said.
“We were seeing these plans, and our eyes were about to burst out of our heads,” said Ray Rogers, superintendent of Dillon schools. “We just wanted a working ceiling, and now we were talking about having the finest of this, the best of that.”
But South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford hesitated to use federal stimulus money to build new schools, and Dillon struggled to procure a substantial loan in an unstable economy. CEOs stopped touring J.V. Martin, and architects moved on to other projects. Dillon even lost Bethea, its most public activist, in August after her mother, Dina, was laid off from her job at an ambulance manufacturer. Dina found work in Atlanta, where Bethea now attends high school.
They left behind a town where hope now feels like a distant memory. The unemployment rate is 18 percent. The largest employer, a chicken-processing plant, pays $9 an hour. The only stimulus money has gone to road resurfacing. All six schools remain in various stages of disrepair. “All of them are about as eye-appealing as sausage,” the mayor said.
Despite the governor who would rather care about his Argentine paramour, and who would rather uphold the worn-out idea that keeping them down and stupid and depressed in the country is best, Dillon is finally getting Federal funds from the Department of Agriculture to rebuild J.V. Martin Middle School. In fact, the money will be used to rebuild or remodel several schools in the area.
Dillon School District 2 Superintendent Dr. Ray Rogers said about $25 million of that will go toward construction of a new Dillon Middle School to replace J.V. Martin Junior High School Portions of J.V. Martin are more than a century old, and structural issues, heating and air conditioning problems and the nearby location of a busy railroad track, forced the school into the spotlight as part of “The Corridor of Shame.”
Rogers said he and other school district officials worked for several years to secure funding to build a new school, but ran into roadblocks.
“People in our community passed the 1-cent referendum, but because of the economy it has been very difficult to get banks to extend loans for more than 20 years,” he said.
Rogers said he knew for more than a month the government would be extending the funding, but remained quiet on the issue until the formal announcement was made. He said it is the culmination of years of work and effort and hopes it will serve as a turning point for students in Dillon County.
“We’re elated. We know what this means for Dillon County and all three school districts and we’re very excited, and we know now that the hard work and the dedication that people who worked for the bond referendum put in is going to come to fruition,” he said.
Rogers said portions of the funding will be used to construct Dillon Middle on the campus of Dillon High School, while other funds would go to the Dillon School District 1, based in Lake View, and Dillon School District 3, based in Latta.
Rogers said the district, along with the federal government, is putting safeguards in place to ensure proper accountability of the funds.
“This is federal loans, and when you’ve got federal loans they will have their own people here also tracking it,” he said. “The county board is the one that will be handling all the funds. There will be three different outfits that oversee the construction … I feel like it will be watched very closely.”
I hope that the rebuilding project being “watched very closely” means that the $40 million will definitely not be diverted into other projects. Or do one school on the cheap while the other school is splurged upon, defeating the whole purpose. I don’t doubt that like in other country or small town sections of the South, monies to fix dilapidated schools in other economically depressed areas are easily sent over to fix or remake institutions in more middle-class areas, so that the children’s needs are still passed over because of class, not just race.
I’m sure Ty’Sheoma will be invited back for the ribbon-cutting, and I know that she’ll attend. She will have then fulfilled her purpose for Dillon. Time passes on in the blink of an eye, and I am sure it will be a good time for her to renew old friendships, and to make new determinations.