UNION — A student who drops out of high school will make a million dollars less and be more likely to end up in prison than a student who stays in school and goes on to college.
That was the message of “The Choice Bus” which spent Thursday in Union County High School’s bus parking lot presenting students with the benefits of staying in school and the consequences of dropping out.
“We are a dropout prevention program,” presenter Eryka Perry said. “We are focusing on the power of education and the importance of choices and the likely consequences of not getting an education.”
The Choice Bus is one of the tools created by The Mattie C. Stewart Foundation to help reduce the dropout rate in the United States.
An information packet provided by the foundation features “a few facts about dropouts” including:
• Each year 1.2 million high school students drop out of school.
• Every 26 seconds a student chooses to drop out of school.
• Dropouts are six times more likely that high school graduates to commit crimes.
• More than 80 percent of prison inmates are functionally illiterate.
• Each year dropouts cost the U.S. economy $329 billion in lost economic opportunity and additional social services (welfare, health care, unemployment, incarceration etc.)
The bus is divided into two sections, with each section representing one of the two paths students will travel based on the decisions they make.
“The front end of the bus is set up like a classroom,” Perry said. “The back of the bus is a replica of an 8x8 prison cell.”
The walls of the classroom section are covered with messages that encourage students to stay in school and quotations from historical figures the impact of education or the lack of it on society:
Jails and prisons are the complement of schools, so many less as you have of the latter, so many more you must have of the former. — Horace Mann
He who opens a school door, closes a prison. — Victor Marie Hugo
Perry pointed out that a prison cell like the one depicted on the bus will be a big part of the lives of many high school dropouts.
“As of right now, statistics are that eight out of every ten high school dropouts end up in prison,” Perry said. “Seventy-five percent of all prison inmates do not have a high school education.”
Some of those inmates tell their stories to the students who board The Choice Bus through a video shown in the classroom section.
“On the video there are a few inmates from the Alabama Department of Corrections that tell their story,” Perry said. “At some point they all gave up on their education which led them down the path to prison.”
The video the students view at the beginning of the presentation tells the story of Dr. Shelley Stewart who established the foundation and named it in honor of his late mother and why he established it.
In addition to showing students the potential legal ramifications of not staying in school, the video also touches on the financial impact it can have on their lives, a subject discussed at greater length during the second part of the program.
After viewing the video, Perry said students are allowed to walk through the prison cell and presented with the realities of prison life.
The students then return to the classroom section of the bus where the presenters conclude the program by presenting the different futures the students will experience depending on the choices they make.
“Once they are out of the cell, we try and tie it all together, telling them about how dropping out affects the prison rate,” Perry said. “A person without an education can’t find a job and they often end up making more poor choices.
“Then we go back to the positive side, focusing on what a high school graduate makes in a year,” she said. “We let them know that going a step past high school — trade school, community college, military service or a four-year university — sets them up to make a million dollars more over the course of their lifetime than a high school dropout.”
Perry said the presenters then discuss the various aspects of post-secondary education and give students the opportunity to ask questions.
This is then followed by a final message about choice from one of the inmates whose stories the students heard at the beginning of the program.
“We wrap things up with one of the youngest inmates in the video,” Perry said. “She says that had she only hung around with a better crowd, those who wanted to exceed and excel, she wouldn’t be in the predicament she is today.”
Editor Charles Warner can be reached at 864-427-1234, ext. 14, or by email at email@example.com.