By Glenn Swain
A school bus normally transports students to and from school. The Choice Bus keeps kids in school.
The non-profit Mattie C. Stewart Foundation in Starkville, MS created the unique prison/classroom Choice Bus in 2008 to help keep students on the road to a good education.
The Choice Bus is an experience-based learning tool designed to show young people the power of education, as well as the likely consequences of dropping out of school. The specialty bus contains a full-scale replica of a prison cell hidden behind a curtain and flat screen television.
The Choice Bus has become so popular that two others are now in use. According to Mattie C. Stewart Foundation Executive Director Phil Christian, in October the one-millionth student went through The Choice Bus experience.
“We’ve spent most of our time in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic regions, but we get requests from school systems, community groups and elected officials from all over the country,” Christian says. “These three buses stay booked the majority of the time during the school year.”
A driver and two presenters staff the buses. Designed for students in grades 6 to 10, The Choice Bus experience takes approximately 20 minutes.
“We can get 24 students on the bus at a time, so during a typical school day we have about 450 students pass through,” says Christian.
Students see a short movie on the earning potential of a dropout versus a high school and college graduate. The movie features several powerful testimonials from actual prison inmates who regret dropping out of school. Students learn sobering statistics: 75 percent of prison inmates dropped out of school and 80 percent cannot read or write.
“Common sense will tell you that if we can keep kids in school and get them to graduate, we will have a reduction of the flow into our prison system,” Christian says.
When the movie is finished the jail cell is revealed; students are then invited behind bars to briefly experience the uncomfortable living conditions. Students exiting the bus receive a pledge card and are asked to make a commitment to finish school and make good choices.
“Our vision is to have more buses servicing all regions of the U.S.,” Christian says. BR