SNOW HILL — Students got a realistic look at just how much of an impact an education has on a life when The Choice Bus visited Worcester County this week.
Both the benefits of graduating high school and the repercussions of dropping out were starkly highlighted on the bus, especially the tragic correlation between dropping out and prison.
Created by a partnership between State Farm and The Mattie C. Stewart Foundation (MCSF), The Choice Bus is a mobile classroom that puts an emphasis on the dangers of not staying in school by having the back of the bus feature a re-created prison cell.
“The Choice Bus experience allows students to envision two dramatically different futures and sends a powerful message about the value of education,” said Sherri Stewart, Executive Director of The Mattie C. Stewart Foundation. “The major focus during the presentation is showing young people what education can do for them and how it’s connected to career choices and lifetime earning potential.”
Students at Snow Hill Middle School were advised to always surround themselves with people with similar ambitions and to visualize what they want from the future.
“Are you building towards getting the things that you want?” asked Eryka Perry, Choice Bus presenter. “Are you building towards your dreams?”
If not, students face a hard road. According to The Choice Bus, 75 percent of prison inmates are high school dropouts with more than 80 percent of inmates functionally illiterate. While that is about the bleakest situation a dropout faces, Perry pointed out that even if they never go to prison they will almost certainly struggle financially as on average those who don’t graduate fail to earn even close to the poverty line.
“That means that in order to survive in the United States of America right now you have to make at least $25,000,” said Perry. “And by survive I mean three meals a day, a roof over your head and basic utilities. The average high school dropout makes $8,000 to $16,000 a year.”
While “staying in school is a good idea” is hardly a new concept, The Choice Bus presented students with a practical understanding. This included a short video containing interviews and was driven home by allowing students to walk through the re-created jail cell housed in the bus. It wasn’t all doom and gloom, however, as Perry told students that a better life is as simple as committing to learning.
“There are so many different options that we don’t know. Did you know that there are scholarships available because you wear glasses?” she asked one student.
Scholarships are also available through local government. State Senator Jim Mathias visited The Choice Bus Tuesday and told students that he’s seen hundreds of scholarships distributed through the House of Delegates and State Senate.
“Please apply and reach out to us on the Internet, reach out to our office,” he said.
Mathias hopes Worcester County students take the lessons presented by The Choice Bus to heart.
“It was exceptional. It certainly allows the students to see what the differences are and the most valuable asset for them is their education,” he said.
This was a sentiment shared by Dr. Shelley Stewart, founder and president of MCSF.
“Education is the key to a successful life. We need to show every child that they have the potential to pursue a career and make a good living,” he said. “That’s why we are grateful to State Farm for helping us further our mission to increase the graduation rate in Maryland and across the nation.”