Jail or graduation? Milford students decide on ‘Choice Bus’

MILFORD — When 9th grader Dre Moultrie stepped aboard a half-yellow, half-white bus last week while parked in from of Milford Senior High School, he said he thought he was about to take a trip to the Sussex Correctional Institute in Georgetown along with his class mates and teachers.

To his surprise, the bus was turned off and Eryka Perry of the Mattie C. Stewart Foundation began talking to the students about choices.

“You can live the life of your dreams, or live the life of your nightmares,” she told the students.

The Choice Bus rolled into the parking lots of two Milford schools, including the high school and Milford Central Academy, Thursday, Feb. 25, allowing students to travel from one decision to the next as a “drop- out prevention tool.”

The front half of the Choice Bus is essentially a classroom with bus seats facing the back of the bus. At the “front” of the classroom, students watch a quick, four-minute video and listen to a presenter, both detailing two opportunities available for students: finishing high school or going to jail.

“Every choice you make has a consequence, good or bad,” presenter Chet Pennock told a group of students. “75 percent of people in prison right now didn’t finish high school. We don’t want that to happen to anyone in this bus.”

According to the foundation, eight out of 10 high school dropouts end up in prison.

“Not finishing school is not a good option in life and if you end up in prison, you don’t have any choices,” eighth grade math teacher Michelle Hamilton said while joining her students inside the Choice Bus.

On the other hand, Mr. Pennock said those graduating from college will earn, on average, $1 million more over his or her lifetime than a high school dropout.

“College is not for everybody,” he also said. “Not everybody is cut out for college, but you do need a skill. $1 million is the power of that education to you.” After the presentation, the second half of the bus was unveiled to students: a replica of a jail cell complete with bunk beds and a communal toilet.

Students were warned to not only make good choices for themselves, but to also be wary of the wrong crowd which could make a choice for them.

“I literally just had a student arrested for heroin. He was there fixing the boys’ bike,” a teacher was overheard upon leaving the Choice Bus with her students.

For students such as Mr. Moultrie, the Choice Bus provided a tangible, interactive lesson on the consequences of choosing graduation over dropping out.

“I’m not about to go to jail,” he said. “Follow your dreams. Stay out of trouble. You’ll get a better reward.”

Sponsored by State Farm, the Choice Bus has visited more than 2,000,000 students in 21 states since 2008. Communities in Schools of Delaware worked with State Farm and the foundation to schedule the bus in schools across Delaware from Feb. 23-26.

Jennifer Antonik can be reached at mc@newszap.com

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