Kim White, right, shows Chase Bailey and Jnya Trimble, both 11, visit the prison cell on the Choice Bus at Columbus Middle School Wednesday afternoon. Chase is the son of Tim and Chynee Bailey. Jnya is the daughter of Bobby Trimble and Cherylln Marllad. Photo by: Deanna Robinson/Dispatch Staff
September 14, 2017 10:57:59 AM
When 11-year-old Chase Bailey got on the Choice Bus with the rest of his sixth grade class at Columbus Middle School Wednesday, he didn't know what to expect.
He and his classmates filed into the otherwise ordinary-looking school bus and sat facing a curtain that blocked off one end of the vehicle.
Then the teachers pulled back the curtain, revealing to Bailey and his classmates a life-size, 8-by-8-foot jail cell.
"I wasn't really expecting a jail cell, so I was surprised," Bailey said.
It wasn't his first time seeing a cell -- his dad took him last year to a local law enforcement office to show him a holding cell and tell him the only reason he should ever be there is if he's "picking someone else up" -- but it served as more of a reminder to choose the right friends and stay out of trouble if he wants to graduate high school, go to college and pursue his dream of becoming an engineer.
Bailey was one of about 250 CMS sixth graders to see the jail cell and hear the presentation about making good choices on the Choice Bus, part of the Birmingham-based nonprofit Mattie C. Stewart Foundation. The bus travels around the eastern part of the country, stopping at schools so presenters can talk to teenagers about the importance of staying in school -- and showing them firsthand what it's like inside a jail cell.
It's the second straight year the bus has visited CMS, said sixth grade Assistant Principal Tanesha Jennings, who arranged for the bus to come this year. The presentations are free for schools, thanks to corporate sponsorships from State Farm.
And she knows it makes an impression with students, she said.
"One of the students asked last year, 'You mean to tell me the jail cell's so small you can fit it on a bus?'" she laughed. "'...I don't want to be in there.'"
Stay in school
About 75 percent of inmates in the United States did not graduate high school, said head presenter Chet Pennock of Aiken, South Carolina. That's why it's important students know to stay in school, do their best in class and make sure they don't spend time with friends who will encourage them to slack off, or worse, start fights or get in any other kind of trouble with school administrators or police. The bus has visited roughly 2 million students since the foundation began in 2007, Pennock said.
The presentation, which includes a quick walk in the cell, a video and then a discussion with the students about their goals and ways to achieve them, takes about 20 minutes. That's enough time, Pennock hopes, for the presenters to emphasize the importance of both graduating high school and going one step farther -- to college or a trade school and getting some kind of skill. With that, they can have a higher standard of living and be less likely to find themselves on the streets or behind a jail cell.
"Every one of (the students) has opportunity in their life," Pennock said. "...Not some. Not most. If you stay in school and graduate, all of them can get to one of these places. But they have to make these choices."
The message is nothing the students haven't heard before, Jennings said. But giving the students something life-size and tangible helps emphasize the lesson.
"It's something that's very real for them," she said. "They can touch it. They can put their hands on the bars. They can hear the noise it makes when (the door) closes behind them."
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