Brenda Ringe // The Post and Courier
Inside the Choice Bus at Sedgefield Middle School, students tour a replica of a prison cell and watch a video of testimonials from prison inmates. The experience is intended to teach kids the importance of education and making good life decisions.
With its stark toilet and bunk, the 8-by-8-foot jail cell student Josh Smith saw Thursday was “creepy,” he said.
Josh was one of about 250 at the 900-student Sedgefield Middle School who visited The Choice Bus, an experience-based program to show the importance of education. Many of the students were hand-picked by school guidance counselor Matthew Smith.
“It’s kind of difficult at this age to tell who needs to see this and who doesn’t,” Smith said. “Some of these kids may have no (discipline) referrals, but it’s a precautionary measure to let them know that the choices they make now impact their future.”
The modified school bus has a space for students to watch a video of testimonials from prison inmates, then a curtain opens to reveal the replica prison cell. After the 20-minute presentation, students are asked to sign a pledge to finish school and make good choices.
“It made me realize I shouldn’t be bad in school,” said Josh, a seventh-grader. “And that I should be careful who I hang out with.”
The bus was built by The Mattie C. Stewart Foundation (www.mattiecstewart.org), a national nonprofit dedicated to reducing the drop-out rate. Nearly 1 million children have visited the foundation’s three buses since they began touring the country in September 2008. State Farm Insurance partnered with the foundation to bring the bus to South Carolina for a three-week visit that ended at Sedgefield Middle, the only stop in the Lowcountry.
The visit was facilitated by Patricia Ferguson, coordinator of the Trident Regional Education Center, SC Personal Pathways to Success.
“There are some great career opportunities coming to our region,” Ferguson said. “But if you don’t have a high school diploma, a lot of employers won’t even look at you.”
Smith said the program fit nicely with Berkeley County School District’s push to raise graduation rates.
“We’ll never have this here again, but hopefully these students will always remember it and the message will stick with them,” he said.
Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or on Facebook.