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Rural South Carolina School in National Spotlight Breaks Ground On New Building

A rural South Carolina school that attracted national attention for the dilapidated condition of its building celebrated a groundbreaking last week for a new facility.

The J.V. Martin Junior High building in Dillon County is the oldest in the state, and the original part of its structure, a former church, dates back to 1896, according to an Associated Press story.

President Barack Obama visited the school in 2007 during South Carolina's presidential primary, and he promised not to forget its students. The school made national headlines when Obama talked about it during his first address to Congress in 2009 after receiving a letter from former 8th grader Ty'Sheoma Bethea.

Bethea asked for help in replacing the crumbling school, and during Obama's speech, she sat beside first lady Michelle Obama. Congress had debated dedicating stimulus money for school construction but decided not to do so.

J.V. Martin High is being replaced through a $36 million low-interest federal loan and a $4 million federal grant. It's in one of the most economically depressed regions of the state, dubbed the Corridor of Shame from a 2005 documentary that showed the poor conditions of local schools.

Rural schools across the country struggle to replace aging facilities. A 2004 report from the Rural School and Community Trust stated that 60 percent of rural schools have at least one major building feature in need of replacement or extensive repair. The report offered states policy suggestions on how to tackle the issue.

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