Congressman Don Davis visits Tyrrell County Schools

Published 4:29 pm Wednesday, March 29, 2023

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By Jackson Fischer-Diotte, Tyrrell County Schools

“There are two stories of Eastern North Carolina,” Congressman Don Davis told a collection of Tyrrell County Schools teachers, administrators and students on Thursday, March 16, 2023, “one of prosperity, and one of survival. One of growth, and one of regression. One of opportunities, and one of the lack thereof.”

The “Live To Dream” Tour is part of the congressman’s promise to address the immediate needs of Eastern North Carolina’s rural school systems by speaking in person to its representatives. Davis tells us he was inspired by something a principal had once told him, that, “When you get a student to dream, that dream has no boundaries.”

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Mr. Davis believes that in order to create a sustainable and prosperous future for the state and its people, we must not only ensure we provide quality education for our students, but the opportunity to apply their education to fulfilling, high-paying, specialized roles available right here in our hometowns. Where these opportunities are most lacking, Davis tells us, is where we need to establish them the most, and give our children reasons to stay here, to live and raise families here.

It isn’t an easy task. We must recognize the problem before we can solve it. We are one of the fastest growing states in the country, and yet, 17 of 19 counties in the Eastern constituency saw decreases in population. All five of the low-wealth districts who sued the state in 1994 in Leandro v. The State Of North Carolina were from Down East. “The East has the highest rate of chronic illness, the highest infant mortality rate, and the lowest life expectancy in the entire state,” said Mr. Davis, emphasizing that to address healthcare is to focus on so many other factors, such as bringing teachers, workers, and businesses together to make the East as great as it has the potential to be.

Mr. Davis’s words at the same time hold the state and the institutions of Eastern North Carolina accountable for the disparities we see here, and simultaneously provide the solutions on the horizon, now that we’re looking the problem directly in its face, where no politics, no bureaucracy, no corporate influences can halt our progress from becoming a prosperous and contributing part of the state.

Congressman Davis doesn’t tell us these things to discourage us. In fact, he points out many of the great things going on in the East. For example, Warren’s innovative new “Space Force” ROTC program, Halifax’s nonprofit Center for Energy Education, ECU’s prestigious medical program, and STEM East’s 4-year aviation program (the only in the state).

There’s a lot of work to do, and Don Davis didn’t just promise, but showed us how he’s taking it on. Not only did he introduce himself to everyone in attendance, but addressed their individual concerns, giving his full attention to whoever he spoke with. Of the concerns that were raised, several key areas overlapped. Healthcare, affordable housing and technology.

“How are we supposed to recruit teachers to teach here when we have one Food Lion, inadequate healthcare, a lack of broadband access, and inadequate housing?” asked one teacher.

Tackling the topic of healthcare, Davis slowed down, “I don’t know any better way to say this. We are one of eleven states in the union that hasn’t expanded Medicaid.”

“In our network,” he went on, “95,000 residents cannot access Medicaid because of the coverage gap.” And not only is this a problem for those with health issues, but for the economy as well. Over 3,000 jobs would be created by the state’s expansion of Medicaid. Davis suggested the potential solution of an “interlocal agreement,” a federal alternative where individual counties can expand Medicaid benefits as they see fit for their communities.

Regarding housing affordability, he referenced the need to make it possible for districts to raise teacher salaries, and that, as overseer of Rural Development in the Department of Agriculture, he has staff in place to help teachers find comfortable, affordable housing, though, Davis admits, there’s more that can be, and will be done.

And speaking to our technology department, who gave him the specifics on how internet companies cannot afford to provide sufficient broadband to large counties with small populations, such as Tyrrell County, because it’s simply not cost effective. “That’s where the government comes in,” responded Mr. Davis, reporting on the enormous value of technology as a fundamental tool to our children’s success, especially after COVID-19.

Then, preparing his final remarks, the congressman turned again to the students. “I want you to remember this going forward,” he said, in almost a whisper, “and I want you to never forget what I’m about to say: There’s nothing that proves more successful to your success than staying in school. There is a direct correlation between the height of your education, and the size of your paycheck. If you want it, you have to earn it, and I’m going to do my best to give you the opportunities you deserve.”

Tyrrell County Schools greatly appreciates the time and effort Congressman Davis put into meeting our people and addressing our hopes and concerns for the future of Eastern North Carolina. And a special thank you to Leticia Gonzalez-Ochoa, Aiden Bryant, Tucker Fleming, Sophie Olecki, and Isiys Marner  who showed amazing professionalism and even gave Mr. Davis a run for his money with their questions.