Retired Teacher Has Hope Poor Community Will Rebound

Renee Montagne and David Greene report on how a longtime teacher in Virginia has hope for her impoverished county. Tammy Smith retired this summer from 32 years in Dickenson County public schools. That county is one of the poorest in Virginia.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And now to a Virginia community that was suffering through decline even before the recent downturn. Students in Dickenson County, Virginia are back at school this week.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

For the first time in 32 years, Tammy Smith will not be here to greet them. She's a speech therapist who retired this summer.

GREENE: In the Appalachian Mountains, Dickenson County is now one of the poorest in Virginia, victim of the declining coal industry. Smith says she watched as affluence drained away, families broke up, one in five people now live in poverty. But the children gave her hope.

TAMMY SMITH: Well, they're basically everything that the county's got to look forward to, because it is a struggling town population-wise, economically, and their children really need all the encouragement and education we can give them to promote the future.

MONTAGNE: She says some of those students have proven her right.

SMITH: In fact, we have a young lawyer that's just gone through law school that's come back and set up practice there. And he didn't have to come there. He could have gone, you know, to a larger city, but he's come back home.

GREENE: Seth Baker is that young lawyer.

SETH BAKER: I guess you can be a small fish in a big pond, or you can be a big fish in a small pond. But I just like the people around here. The roots are strong.

MONTAGNE: Baker says his practice is turning a small profit, and he's proud of the education he got, despite the county's limitations.

BAKER: I know my education that I received here, and when I got to college and elsewhere, I was able to keep up with everybody else. I did talk a little bit funny. I guess you can tell. But I felt like I had the tools to compete and survive anywhere, with what I got here.

GREENE: Seth Baker in Dickenson County, Virginia. His two young boys won't be in school for a few more years.

MONTAGNE: But they could still meet Tammy Smith in the hallway when they do start. She plans to start teaching part-time in October.

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