Milford Central Academy (MCA) 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.
“This bus allows the students a visual stimulus and gives them a tangible example of the possibilities in their future. From the classroom to the jail cell, they start to understand that the choice is theirs,” said Eryka Perry, presenter on the Choice Bus at MCA. “We hope to demonstrate how important the choices are that they make every day and that they can build their own future with a focus on education.”
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 that highlights statistics such as the earning potential of a high school dropout versus a high school and college graduate. While the average high school dropout makes between $8,000 to $16,000 per year, a high school graduate can earn up to $1 million more over their lifetime. Perry stated that with the national poverty level set at $25,000, the typical high school dropout cannot afford to make a living even through hard work.
Perry stressed that individuals do not drop out of school to become criminals or to commit crimes but that many individuals can turn to that lifestyle since they cannot makes ends meet. In fact, she pointed to the statistic that 75% of prisoners in the United States are high school dropouts. A startling number, the students start to understand that an education is their way to not only keep their freedom but to live their dreams.
“What are your dreams, what are your goals?,” asked Perry to MCA students. “Explore where you want to go and what you need to get there. An education will give you the opportunity to live out your dreams.”