BUCKHANNON - This week, many students in Upshur County have taken part in a program aimed at dropout prevention.
As part of the Choice Bus program, students file into a special school bus with seats that are turned backward to face a television. The TV displays a video that includes interviews with convicted criminals who made bad choices in their lives. The one thing these criminals have in common is not earning a high school diploma.
The program was sponsored by The Mattie C. Stewart Foundation and State Farm Insurance.
Buckhannon-Upshur High School students Riley Queen, 16, left, and Mitchell Williams, 15, tour the cell at the back of the Choice Bus. (The Inter-Mountain photo by Melissa Toothman)
"Having an education is one thing, but you have to make positive choices as well," The Mattie C. Stewart Foundation Lead Presenter Chet Pennock said Friday. "The sooner the better on all counts."
The presentation was available to Buckhannon-Upshur Middle and Buckhannon-Upshur High schools. Pennock said The Choice Bus has traveled nationally, but usually focuses on the Eastern U.S. Since 2008, the bus has been seen by more than 1.5 million students. The Choice Bus, Pennock said, is an interactive tool for students, schools organizations and communities.
"It seems to have a little better impact when they touch it, feel it, get up and move around instead of having someone just speak to them for a given amount of time," Pennock said. "It seems to keep their attention and have a longer-lasting impact."
Graduation Coach Shanna Parlock said the program was paid for by the Innovation Zone Grant. She said her efforts to increase the graduation rate, school morale and provide programs to students seem to be working, as she is noticing some differences in middle and high school students.
"I think that it has them focus on a dream and what they can do," Parlock said about Friday's program. "When they have that, it sort of gives them blinders toward the bad things."
After the video presentation, the television is shifted and curtains drawn back to reveal an example of what a prison cell looks like. The cell only has two beds and an all-in-one sink and toilet area for personal hygiene. The condensed hygiene facility is open with no privacy and shared with all cellmates.
Although the small sample cell room only shows two beds, Pennock said that normally it would be just as small and have four beds.
According to statistics from the foundation, eight of every 10 prisoners are high school dropouts. The statistics in the video state that 75 percent of all prison inmates were dropouts. A dropout also is eight times more likely to go to prison than a high school graduate.
"Information shows things that cause students to get behind and drop out academically may start as early as third to fifth grade," Pennock said. "Because of that, the sooner we can get to them and they can comprehend these things and save time, effort and get on the right track so they can graduate. The ultimate goal is to increase the graduation rate. That's our mission."
To learn more, visit www.mattiecstewart.org/thechoicebus.html.