Superintendent’s Spotlight: Ettamoya Byrne


Superintendent’s Spotlight: Ettamoya Byrne

September 25, 2023

Ettamoya Byrne was studying the impacts of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest during class last year and was so concerned by what she had learned that she was inspired to put pen to paper. She sat down on her couch on a Saturday night and began writing a two-page letter to the president of the United States.

Ettamoya is in teacher Jamie Harrington’s two-year PIE 3 / 4 class. Last year, as part of the third-grade curriculum, she was learning about global cultures, which included a unit on Brazil.

As part of the Warwick Valley Central School District’s seven qualities that make up its Portrait of a Graduate, the Sanfordville Elementary School third-grader also had been learning how to be an Ethical and Global Citizen, a Communicator and a Problem Solver.

She described in her letter to President Joe Biden that members of the Yanomami tribe were losing their way of life, their resources and their lives from gold and diamond miners who have invaded their territory in southern Venezuela and northern Brazil.

She explained how waste from mining enters the river when dams break, creating toxic water that they can no longer use to fish or drink. She also explained how the miners bring disease to the isolated tribe and wipe out plants that are used for medicinal purposes. These factors have caused many of the Yanomami to get sick and die or move out of their habitat to more modern towns, abandoning their way of life.

Ettamoya Byrne with her letter and envelope from the president“I wrote a letter to the president because I thought that he gets a lot of mail from kids like me and adults, and I wanted to take a stand and raise my voice,” Ettamoya said. “I just wanted him to know about it because he would definitely know how to respond and he would know how to take a better stand and maybe protect (the land).”

She felt that making a plea directly to President Biden was the best way to get action, she said.

“I wanted to bring this topic up to you because their land is getting destroyed! I know you’re not the president of South America, but I was wondering if you could write a letter to the leaders about this?” she wrote in her letter. “If you can, please tell them that it is from me!”

During the summer, President Biden wrote back to Ettamoya. The letter came to Sanfordville and the school mailed it to her family. When she came home from vacation, the family was delighted to find it in the pile of mail. She and her father opened it delicately.

“It’s pretty impressive, Ettamoya, to use the skills you were learning in class to really send your message,” said Johnna Maraia. “I am very proud of your ability to take those skills and put them into action. She is certainly a Global Citizen as a third grader and now a fourth grader.”

In his letter, President Biden encouraged Ettamoya to continue to use her voice and to speak out on this issue. “Because of students like you, I am more confident than ever in our country’s ability to overcome any challenge we face. Always remember – when you make your voice heard, adults listen.”

Ettamoya is planning to be president when she grows up. If not president, she said, “at least vice president.”

“I think I can do it,” she said with a smile of confidence. “I also want to start my own community service club.”

“I certainly believe in you, Ettamoya,” Mrs. Maraia said. “And, I’m convinced you can do whatever you set your mind to.”

Ettamoya Byrne with a letter from President Biden


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