Milford Central Academy students took a tour on the Mattie C. Stewart Foundation’s Choice Bus last week as they were given a unique look at the importance of education in their daily lives. 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 impacts 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 if he could learn to read and get an education, he could be anything he wanted 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.
Since 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. Students involved in the Communities In School program at the Milford Central Academy had the opportunity to hop on the Choice Bus and experience what outcomes their every day choices can lead to.
“After researching the Choice Bus, Communities In Schools thought it would be a great experience for our students who are typically high risk academically, socially or environmentally,” commented Keenon Mann, Program Director of Communities in Schools in Milford. “The Choice Bus gave them a concrete lesson on making positive decisions, relaying the ideas we teach them in the classroom.”
The Choice Bus contains a full scale replica of a prison cell which is hidden behind a curtain and flat screen television. As students enter the bus, they view a movie the highlights statistics such as the earning potential of a dropout versus a high-school and college graduate. After the movie, the cell is revealed to demonstrate the reality that is experienced by many dropouts. Students are asked to walk into the prison cell and experience the uncomfortable living conditions.
“It was very impactful for the students to actually see a jail cell on the bus and be able to walk through that unexpected setting with their peers,” commented Mann. “It reinforced the idea that if they make positive choices in life than they can end up with positive results such as attending college or a good career.”
The Communities In Schools program located at the Milford Central Academy continues to teach sixth, seventh and eighth graders students life skills, proper decision making and how to build positive relationships. Over the school year the class size has grown to include 40 male and 40 female students, which rotate into and out of the program three times per year. Director Keenon Mann believes that CIS students, which are between the age of twelve and fourteen, are among the formidable years for teachers to instill core academic and societal values.
“In the classroom we continue to help students work through peer-to-peer conflicts, how to communicate effectively and understanding the consequences if they do not,” commented Mann. “The biggest lesson for them to learn is that every day they have the opportunity to make decisions to effect their lives in a positive or negative way.”