FLORENCE, SC (WMBF) – A high school diploma or life in prison – those are the realities Florence middle school students consider after boarding a bus.
Students at Southside Middle School climbed aboard the Choice Bus Wednesday and learned how the decision to drop out of school can impact their lives. Half school bus half prison cell, students realize how the choices they make now will determine their future.
"From what I heard and saw on the bus, it's not a good place to be," Cassidy Oliver said, an 8th grader at Southside Middle School. She was surprised to learn 75 percent of all prison inmates are high school drop-outs.
"It kind of surprises me," she remarked. "Most of the time, I think, you know, adults, they graduated high school and then they did something wrong."
"When you see the size of that room and you compare that with a college classroom or a great job or something like that, the choice becomes a lot easier for them."
The traveling exhibit is of the many efforts Florence school district one is making to reduce the number of high school drop outs. They are taking a proactive approach and targeting children at the middle school so they are less likely to drop out in high school.
Data from Florence school district one shows the number of high school drop-outs has gone up roughly 20 percent over the last 2 school years. However, the graduation rate has increased by nearly 4 percent over the past 2 school years.
Graduate Florence is one of several efforts Florence school district one is making to reduce its drop-out rates. After the first week of each school year, teachers and local law enforcement seek those missing students and encourage them to attend school.
Interim Superintendent Allie Brooks says over 120 middle schools students did not attend school during the first week of the 2008-2009 school year. This figure plummeted to 13 at the start of the 2010-2011 school year.
"They're going to be the members of society that make an impact later on down the line," Assistant Principal Russ Rod. He says educators at Southside Middle School are committed to their students beyond the time they spend in class.
"We don't just care for that small amount of time, but for their entire life."
The customized bus features a full-scale replica of a prison cell at the back of the bus. Before viewing the cell, they watch a 20 minute video that explains how drop-outs fare in life compared to high school graduate. They also hear the testimonials of prison inmates who dropped out of high school.
The Choice Bus travels to middle schools across the country to encourage students to stay in school. It is a product of the Mattie C. Stewart foundation. It seeks to create tools and resources reduce drop-out rates and improve graduation rates.
The Mattie C. Foundation finds that 1.2 million high school students drop out of school each year. Drop-outs cost the U.S. economy $329 billion annually in lost economic opportunity and social services such as welfare, incarceration and unemployment.
The choice bus will continue its tour throughout the palmetto state in Darlington Thursday.