Christian middle schools in a number of South Carolina counties have received visits this week from a different kind of school bus. Dubbed the “Choice Bus,” it’s the nation’s first mobile experience dedicated to reducing the dropout rate.
The front part of the bus looks like a regular yellow bus; the rear half imitates a prison bus. And that’s the message, since 75 percent of school dropouts spend time in prison.
The project is sponsored by the Mattie Stewart Foundation out of Birmingham. Foundation Director Ted Christian says the device works for a reason.
Friday the bus is visiting Roberts Middle School in Holly Hill and Elloree Elementary in Elloree. It has also been to a number of middle schools in Columbia, Pelion, and Sumter.
Students watch a four-minute video inside the bus featuring interviews with prison inmates. Then the video screen and the black curtain behind it swing away to reveal a stark jail cell, complete with a stainless steal toilet-sink fixture.
Director of the South Carolina Department of Corrections Jon Ozmint was on the scene to endorse the idea. Ozmint says it all comes down to quality education.
At the same time, Ozmint wants taxpayers to know that efforts are being made as much as funding will allow to give prisoners an education so that they can become productive members of society when they get out. Public school programs in all of the state’s major prison facilities offer classes for inmates to get their GED certificates.
Dr. Kaye Shaw is Midlands Coordinator of Regional Education Centers, which forges relationships between schools and the business community, and allows successful people to show students what it means to have their careers. She says dropping out is not a very good career choice, since the average college graduate earns $1 million more than a high school dropout over the course of a lifetime.
The project is supported in South Carolina by State Farm Insurance and the South Carolina Department of Education.