The outside looks like a school bus, but inside The Mattie C. Foundation's "Choice Bus" students learn a lesson that could change their lives forever.
They watch a movie where inmates talk about how their decision to drop out of school led them on the path to bad decisions. Then a replica jail cell is revealed inside the bus.
Gulfport Central Middle School student Kelsey Kolberg said, "It was really surprising about what could happen so easily, really fast, with just one decision and one move that could ruin a life."
"I don't want to go there, I don't want to be on that pathway," student Jaidon Evans said, "I want to stay on the good one."
Seven thousand high school students drop out of school every single day, and eight out of ten dropouts end up in jail, according to The Mattie C. Stewart Foundation.
"A lot of kids show up to school every day and have no idea why they are doing this. They are just doing it because they are told this is what you do every day," Charmaine Brown with The Mattie C. Stewart Foundation said. "But when you come to the bus, we bring it home."
Students walk inside the cell to get a real glimpse of what prison life is like from the metal beds to the toilet in the center of the cell.
"Their faces change as soon as they see it," Brown said, "like, 'Oh, that's a jail.' It's not like in the movies and television."
Student Daphne Gaines said, "I was getting claustrophobic, it was small."
The children also learn about the other positives of staying in school.
"Dropouts don't make as much money as high school graduates and college graduates," Gaines said.
At the end of the bus tour, students share what they want to be and leave with information on the best pathways to that career.
"We really push in the whole Gulfport School District to stay in school," Gulfport Central Middle School Assistant Principal Beth Bellipanni said. "We have programs to do that and this is something that kind of reinforces what we are already doing."
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