Calera Middle students learn the importance of choices

Published 3:54 pm Monday, August 30, 2010

Calera Middle students tour a simulated prison cell that’s part of a program to discourage dropping out of school early.

Life holds many choices at each stage — infant choosing between outstretched arms, a child choosing friends and an adult making choices about career and marriage.

Choice is important to God. He included Joshua’s words (24:15) spoken to the Israelites, “Choose you this day whom you will serve.”

Dr. Shelley Stewart understands the importance of choices students make. In honor of his mother, who was murdered by his father, Stewart founded the Mattie C. Stewart Foundation. The Choice Bus, an experience-based learning tool designed to show young people the power of education and the likely consequences of choosing to drop out of school, was created to encourage students to stay in school.

The Choice Bus was recently on campus at Calera Middle School. Sixth graders entered the bus, watched a four-minute video about the consequences of lifestyle if you drop out of school and testimonials of inmates who chose to drop out.

Students learned the relevance of education to earning potential on an annual and lifetime basis and the statistical average of inmates who dropped out of school — 75 percent.

After the video, they toured a simulated prison cell. Marla Aldrich, SCBOE special education coordinator, described the uncomfortable lifestyle of a prisoner.

“You lose all choice and privacy in prison,” Aldrich said. “You are told when to eat, sleep, and wake up. If you’re cold, you don’t get an extra blanket. If you’re hot, there’s no fan to turn on.”

Students surveyed the cramped 8-by-8 cell wide-eyed. Many were speechless as they stared at the gray walls, bed, sink and commode.

Aldridge discussed the importance of making good choices and the potential consequences of making bad choices (i.e., personal responsibility, choosing friends wisely, paying attention in class, etc.).

Referring to potential income, she told them education is the key to success. She asked what they would buy with $1 million.

Houses, video games, and clothes were some responses.

“An island in Hawaii,” one boy called out. I leaned across the seat and introduced myself to this visionary dreamer.

Margaret Fregoso, a retired bus driver, will deliver the bus to every middle school in the school system this year. “I love the kids and glad I can be a part of shaping their lives.”

As students exited the bus, they received a pledge card and were asked to make a commitment to finish school and make good choices.

Count the cost before making a choice. That is good advice regardless of age.

Mollie Brown can be reached at