Students learn about dropout effects

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 10, 2011

By Sarah Campbell
When fifth-grade students at Hanford-Dole Elementary School boarded the Choice Bus on Wednesday morning they didn’t know what to expect.
But as they sat facing the back of the bus, they quickly realized they weren’t taking a trip.
Instead, they received a reality check about the consequences of dropping out of school.
Chet Pennock, a Choice Bus presenter, showed the students a brief video that included the following statistics:
• Seventy-five percent of prison inmates are high school dropouts and 80 percent of those inmates can’t read or write.
• High school dropouts make an average of $17,000 a year, while graduates make about $27,000.
• People who graduate from college will make $1 million more in their lifetime than high school dropouts.
The video also featured prisoners who talked about how making bad decisions have negatively impacted their lives.
“These are real prisoners, serving real prison sentences,’ Pennock said. “They dropped out of school and gave up on education.” 
After the video, Pennock moved a curtain to reveal a full-size replica of a prison cell.
Students entered the cell in small groups, marveling at how someone lives in such a small space.
“The jail was awesome, it really made me think,” Matthew Hoosier, 10, said. “I’m definitely never dropping out of school.”
Ten-year-old Kierra Wilson said she was shocked to learn that so many inmates dropped out of school.
“Most of the inmates said when they weren’t in school they were on the streets,” she said.
Latrail McNeely, 11, said spending a few short minutes inside the prison cell was enough to make him never want to be inside one again.
“I learned what it would be like to have no freedom and be told what to do all the time,” he said. “I would not like that.
“I know I should stay in school and try to learn as much as I can.”
Pennock told the students that education is the path to a successful future.
“The real good news for you in that video is that if you graduate from high school and take your education to the next level you’re going to have a life of a lot of opportunity,” he said. “You can live where you want to live and be what you want to be.
“Everyone on the bus has that opportunity, it’s just laying in front of you for you to take.”
Pennock’s presentation ended with a final thought from a prisoner named Monique.
“She said ‘if only I had chosen to hang around people who chose to excel and exceed I wouldn’t be in the predicament I’m in today …’” he said. “She’s suffering because she made a lot of bad choices.”
Pennock told students to pick their friends wisely.
“Don’t let other people make choices for you,” he said. 
The Choice Bus, an experienced-based learning tool designed to show young people the power of education, made stops at Knox Middle, Koontz Elementary and Hanford-Dole Elementary this week.
The visits were part of a 14-county Communities in Schools of North Carolina tour, funded by grant funds provided by Walmart.
The Choice Bus was created by the Mattie C. Stewart Foundation, an education institution based in Birmingham, Ala., that targets the nation’s dropout rate
Vicky Slusser, executive director of Communities in Schools of Rowan County — a United Way organization, said although the Choice Bus typically targets older students she heard from her staff that elementary students could also benefit from it.
“Next year they are going to be in middle school and up against so many changes,” she said. “I think this is going to be very impactful for them.”
Slusser said she worked to secure the Choice Bus’ stop in Rowan County to give local schools a free resource.
“I think any tool that we can use to show kids the importance of staying in school is essential,” she said.
Although the bus only made stops at three schools, Slusser said it’s available to visit any school and requests can be made online at
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.