BRADENTON -- Ten-year-old Tyler Barros-Watts wants to build a robot.
Last year, with the help of his teacher at Ballard Elementary School, Tyler wrote a letter to President Barack Obama, asking the president if he could borrow some money to help make his dream a reality. Tyler wrote that his parents work hard, but live on a fixed income and didn't have money to spare. He also wanted to make sure President Obama was on board with his plan to build a robot.
On Thursday, during a schoolwide assembly outside in the drizzling rain, Ballard administrators handed Tyler a surprise of his own. Obama wrote Tyler back.
In the letter dated Aug. 13, Obama wrote about the difficult moments he had faced as a young man, saying he found hope and support in his family and community. The president wrote he was working hard to make communities and homes better for all Americans.
"Overcoming adversity is a test we all face, and it often is helpful to reach out to family, teachers, clergy, and others we respect for guidance and assistance," Obama wrote.
Tyler's mom, Maria Barros, was in on the surprise Thursday.
To save money on day care, Maria stayed home the last few years to care for Tyler and her younger son, Spencer. Chris Watts, Maria's husband and the children's father, works as a tree trimmer.
Now, with Spencer joining Tyler this year at Ballard as a kindergarten student, Maria says she can rejoin the workforce.
When Tyler first told her about writing to the president, Maria said she was shocked. While Tyler has watched the news and learned about the president in class, it wasn't a day-to-day conversation in their household.
"I was amazed he thought of asking the president," she said.
And she was just as amazed when she found out Tyler had gotten a response.
So was Tyler.
"I was very surprised, I did not see this coming," Tyler said. "Most people don't have this chance, to be able to get a letter back, so this is like a once-in-a-lifetime experience."
Principal Wendy Mungillo read the letter to the entire school, and then she and Tyler held up the letter and included photos for the students to see.
The presentation was just one part of Thursday's assembly, which was held in collaboration with the school's "accelerate learning" theme this year.
Three expectations for Ballard students this year are to be safe, be respectful and be responsible. Those tenets carry over to race car driving as well, Mungillo explained.
B&E racing drivers Chuck Mathias and Billy Carlbert were on hand with a race car and a race truck. They treated the students to a loud revving of the engines. The 400 or so students acted as the countdown announcers.
"We're going to say, 'Gentlemen, start your learning engines!' because we're starting out learning engines here," Mungillo said.
As the engines revved, many of the students covered their ears because of the noise -- but they gave the drivers a loud round of applause in return.
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter @MeghinDelaney.