'Choice Bus' shows students paths life could take

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By Landmark News Service

INDEPENDENCE — Now that the new school year is underway, Grayson County Public Schools hosted the Choice Bus on Sept. 22 to enable students to better understand the power of education and some of the long-lasting consequences of dropping out of school prior to graduation.

The Choice Bus visit was sponsored by the GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) programs at Grayson County High School and Grayson Highlands Combined School as they continue to strive to increase the number of Grayson County students who graduate from high school prepared to enter and succeed in post-secondary education.
Across the country, 1.2 million students drop out of high school annually.  The Alliance for Excellent Education has found that about one in four students attending rural high schools drop out each year, as compared to one in three students among their urban peers.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, three-quarters of state inmates and 65-75 percent of federal inmates are high school dropouts. In fact, high school dropouts are 3.5 times more likely to be incarcerated at some point during their lifetime than those who have completed high school.
Choice Bus is an experience-based learning tool, developed by the Mattie Stewart Foundation, designed to encourage students to stay in school and make good choices regarding their future.
Grayson students had the opportunity to view “InsideOut,” a documentary reflecting the lasting effects of dropping out as told by prison inmates, prior to visiting the bus.
Upon entering the bus, students were shown a short video expanding the message of the documentary and then the curtain was retracted and a full-scale jail cell revealed. Students had the opportunity to enter it and experience the living conditions of the cell.
The overall goal of visiting the bus was to open students' eyes to the opportunities that await those with an education. After visiting the Choice Bus, students have the opportunity to better understand the importance of making good choices, the potential consequences of making bad choices and the relevance of education to earning potential/salary on an annual and lifetime basis. 
Grayson County High School and Grayson Highlands Combined School are two of 37 schools across the state participating in the federally funded GEAR UP program administered by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia. Virginia's GEAR UP program has expanded the state's efforts to assist students to attend and succeed in postsecondary education by providing early intervention services and a scholarship program for eligible students.

More information about the Choice Bus and the Mattie Stewart Foundation can be found at www.mattiecstewart.org. More information about Virginia's GEAR UP Program can be found at www.gearupva.com or by contacting the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia at (276) 698-6586.