Students at Milford Central Academy were given a unique look at the importance of education when the Mattie C. Stewart Foundation’s Choice Bus arrived at the school on Tuesday, April 16. The Choice Bus, which is half classroom and half prison cell demonstrates to students that the choices they make, both in school and out, can have significant impact on their lives.
Founder of the Choice Bus, Dr. Shelley Stewart, was born in Birmingham, Alabama, and overcame tremendous obstacles to become a successful businessman. After the murder of his father, Dr. Stewart and his mother became homeless. It was through his first grade teacher, Mrs. Mamie Foster, that Dr. Stewart discovered that education was the key to success. Mrs. Foster instilled in him that he must “learn to read, get an education, and you can be anything you want to be.” A radio personality in the 1950’s and 1960’s, Dr. Stewart’s radio broadcasts became a conduit for protests during the civil rights struggles in Birmingham. In the late 1960’s, he expanded into marketing, becoming President and CEO of o2ideas, a corporate communication company. Because Dr. Stewart’s path out of poverty and abuse began when he taught himself to read, the Mattie C. Stewart Foundation has education at the heart of everything they do, and the Choice Bus is no exception.
“The presentation inside the bus begins with the story of the founder of the Mattie C. Stewart Foundation, Shelley Stewart, who witnessed the murder of his father at the age of five,” explained Eryka Perry, a presenter for the foundation. “We then show them a video that literally shows them how important education is by the numbers, such as the fact that a student who drops out of school will make millions less than one who graduates. After the video, students then get to walk through a scaled down version of a jail cell, complete with metal toilet and bunks to demonstrate that eight out of ten drop outs end up in prison.”
Ms. Perry explained that the video features one particular inmate, Monique, who committed a crime that landed her in prison at the age of 19. Monique talks candidly about the fact that she dropped out of school and fell into the wrong group of friends.
“The fact is that 75 percent of prison inmates do not have a high school diploma,” Ms. Perry said. “We do inform the students that dropping out of school does not guarantee you will end up in prison, but that statistics show that there are more drop outs incarcerated than those that have a high school diploma.”
The Choice Bus was presented in partnership with State Farm Insurance and Communities in Schools of Delaware. After students left the bus, they visited a table set up by Mark Schanne, a State Farm agent and Milford School Board Member, to sign a pledge to remain in school and to make good choices both in school and at home.
“This bus travels all over the nation stressing the importance of education,” said Jim Purcell, President of Communities in Schools Delaware. “We are pleased to partner with State Farm and the Mattie C. Stewart Foundation.”