WEST POINT — Cullman County students are getting a look at the importance of staying in school and making good decisions as the Choice Bus kicked off a tour of the school system this past week at West Point. 

The Choice Bus is a program conducted by the Mattie C. Stewart Foundation, a Birmingham-based nonprofit that works to increase high school graduation rates. 

As part of the program, students boarded the bus to hear from lead presenter Chet Pennock and watch a video featuring prisoners who talk about how poor decisions they made as teenagers — such as dropping out of school and hanging out with the wrong crowd —led to long prison sentences.

To further drive the point home, the bus also features a replica of a prison cell for students to walk inside to see how small and restricting it can be for prisoners.

Along with the lessons about making the right choices to stay out of prison, the presentation also focused on the importance of staying in school and having a plan for life after high school.   

The video shared a few financial facts for students to consider when considering their futures, such as how much more money the average high school graduate makes in a year compared to those who drop out of school, and how graduating from college means a person will make around $1 million more in their lifetime compared to those who didn’t. 

College isn’t the only option for students after high school either, and Pennock also encouraged students who may not want to get a four-year degree to learn a trade or go into a technical program so they can find a good job. 

Whatever they want to do with their lives, he told the students that the important thing for them to do now is work with their counselors and teachers to make plan for their future and make sure they stay on the right path — and that starts by staying in school. 

“To get that opportunity to graduate and have that next step available, you’ve got to be there,” he said. 

West Point High School Principal Heith Yearwood said the school system is blessed to have organizations like the Mattie C. Stewart Foundation come out to speak to students. 

Teachers and counselors at the school share the same messages about graduating and making good choices with their students, but sometimes hearing the lesson from someone who comes from outside of the school — especially a video featuring first-hand accounts from people who made the wrong choices at a similar age — can help get the point across, he said. 

“I think our kids can learn more from their peers, seeing people their ages who made choices, than someone who’s older that’s telling them sometimes,” he said. “I think seeing what bad choices do, it may hit home more.”

Tyler Hanes can be reached at 256-734-2131 ext. 238.

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