Mattie C. Stewart Foundation asks students to commit to their future with education

Published 7:00 am Saturday, March 4, 2017

“He who opens a school door, closes a prison,” reads a quote from Victor Hugo on the wall of the Choice Bus, which visited the Middle School of Poplarville this week.

Representatives of the Mattie C. Stewart Foundation travel the country to teach students about the choices they could make that will lead to success, or ending up in prison.

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Eight out of 10 people in prison never finished high school, Chet Pennock, a presenter for the Choice Bus program, said.

Over the years, Pennock said over 2 million students have visited the Choice Bus.

Without a high school education, life’s going to get hard, he said, and that’s when people start to turn to crime.

The program is about helping children plan where they want to go in life, whether that be trade or technical school, college or any other avenue they wish to pursue, Pennock said.

“College isn’t for everybody, but we all need to do something after high school,” he said.

As the students piled into a retrofitted school bus, a black curtain was drawn, hiding the back half of the bus. They then watched a short video of testimonials from inmates in Alabama who described regret for their actions.

“I left my dream, and then I got lost,” an inmate said.

On average, a high school graduate makes $27,000 a year, Pennock said. Although realistically, someone who works full-time at a minimum wage job will only make about $13,000 a year, he said. Those who attend college make at least $1 million more in their lifetime than those who don’t pursue education after high school, Pennock said.

He then asked the students to make a commitment to make positive choices for their education and future opportunities.

Some of the students said they wanted to become veterinarians or welders, while others had more celebrated dreams like joining the NFL.

“Find the people who help you make a plan to get to these places,” Pennock said.

After the video, the curtain was drawn to reveal a mock jail cell in the back of the bus. In small groups, the students experienced a small taste of what it would be like to live in such confines.

With the metal toilet facing the small and barely padded bunk beds, the cell could barely house a group of six middle school students.

The Choice Bus is also sponsored by State Farm and was brought to Poplarville with the help of local agent Bobby Weathersby and community outreach consultant Stacey Wilkes.

“So many kids don’t finish school for various reasons and that choice affects them for the rest of their life,” Wilkes said.

State Farm participates in the program to invest in the future of children, she said.

The Choice Bus visited Poplarville two years ago. Each year the presentation changes slightly and is always adapted for each age group, Wilkes said.

“So many kids in our community don’t have an ideal family situation so they don’t have a clue what happens if they don’t finish high school,” Wilkes said.

At the end of the tour, the students signed a pledge to stay in school and make the most of their education to better their future.

About Julia Arenstam

Staff Writer

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