The ‘Choice’ is yours

Published 1:08 pm Monday, October 23, 2017

WINDSOR – You could call it “the ride of a lifetime”

The ‘Choice Bus’ made a stop at Bertie High School on Thursday.  The colorful transportation is painted one-half yellow-orange like a regular school bus, and the other half white.

Prison-bus white.

The duality continues once students board the bus because inside it is one-half classroom and one-half jail cell.

The converted school bus is collaboration between a major insurance company and the Alabama-based Mattie C. Stewart Foundation. Students who enter the bus receive a firsthand look at what education can bring while at the same time portraying two different life perspectives.  The Stewart Foundation is determined to use the bus as a tool to help reduce the dropout rate in the United States.

Pam Chamblee of Communities in Schools joins James Lawshe, Choice Bus Director, as they stand alongside the bus during its Thursday visit to Bertie High School.

The brain-child of Alabama media mogul Shelley Stewart, he named the Foundation after his late mother.  Stewart rose from poverty in the 1940’s to the helm one of the largest advertising agencies in the country, and he loves to impart the value of education to young people. Meanwhile, the bus tours the country, stopping at schools, and has now been visited by 15 million children in 49 states; more than 2-million in the last nine years alone.

Thursday’s visit here was part of a planned two-day stop the bus made in the Roanoke-Chowan area; on Friday it visited the Weldon STEM Academy.

“We have the bus here so we can inform our students about decisions, actions, and consequences,” said BHS principal Dr. Teresa Anderson. “But we also want them to know that they can make a mistake, and recover from that mistake. Students have to learn to be problem-solvers, and not react to every emotion they’re feeling.  They need to know they’re not where they are, but they’re going somewhere; and in order to go somewhere their choices matter.”

Once the students board the bus and are seated, they view a short film titled, Inside Out, which takes a look at prison life with inmates telling their personal stories of regret for not pursuing an education and graduating from high school. It also points to the money students can make as they pursue their various vocations: including $1 million over their lifetimes if they graduate from college.

Following the film is a question-and-answer period where students discuss prior choices they’ve made in life, where they would like to go in the future, and what it takes for them to get there.

“They see where they can end up if they don’t make the right choices,” says former BHS teacher, Pam Chamblee, now with the ‘Communities in Schools’ program which helped sponsor the Choice Bus at the school.

“Here in Bertie County we don’t have a lot of resources that provide motivation for our children, so for them to be able to come here and visit us and show them they can make choices while they’re still in school before it’s too late,” she added.

Bertie High School Resource Officer Mackinsey Williams watched one of the dozen scheduled demonstrations with a group of students and found the presentation very inspirational.

“They see that getting a diploma affects your whole well-being and your future,” Williams said. “The kids are really taking it in, seeing that jail cell in the back shows them how much of a difference getting that education can make.”

A special banner was displayed on a table inside the lobby of the school auditorium for the students to sign as a sort of pledge that they would follow through by staying in school and seeing their high school education through to its end.  Some of them commented on the presentation’s effect.

“I learned that the people you hang around with have a great impact on your life,” said student Shedrick Demery of Kelford. “You have to be careful who you hang around.”

“You can’t drop out of school, you have to make the right decisions, and you have to hang out with the right kind of people,” echoed fellow student Kyasia Swain of Windsor, who said she wants to attend college with the ambition of becoming a pediatrician.

“We want to begin to change our students’ thinking and their behavior,” added Dr. Anderson. “Things like this teach them how to process, and to think.”

Communities in Schools hope to sponsor a future visit of the Choice Bus at other high school sites again in 2018.