On Working Remotely

Remote Resilience: Mississippi’s Quest for a Mindset Makeover

Written by: Courtney Casabella

In March 2020, the world collectively held its breath. The COVID-19 pandemic forced thousands into quarantine, job insecurity, and financial uncertainty. It also greatly affected the area of adult education. A year and a half later, society is rushing to return to the “status quo”.

But why – especially, in the realm of adult education?

Many adult learners must overcome a myriad of obstacles including financial difficulties, low literacy levels, incarceration, or complicated family situations. Adult education is designed to give these students an opportunity to advance their careers and improve their situations.

In addition to the adversities listed previously, the pandemic brought to light the vast disparities related to internet access. Many programs offered virtual resources to students taking adult education courses. Now, it seems that many programs are transitioning back to in-person courses. Without even digging into the problem of internet access, or addressing the benefits of virtual learning, why were we not adamantly insisting that digital education become a norm for adult learners?

Prior to last year, online learning had a bit of a reputation as being inferior to face-to-face instruction, and without the shove of the pandemic, would probably still not be a standardized developmental need or priority. Furthermore, despite how essential online learning resources have become, there are still skeptics. Perhaps the most pervasive of negative ideas is that there are too many limitations to online learning and that students (particularly adult education students) are not prepared for those limitations.  Both of those notions can and should be dismantled.

What if I told you that online learning is not as different as you think? Instead of viewing online learning under the lens of what it cannot do, take a moment to reflect on all it can:

  • Online learning is flexible and customizable. It offers students with childcare constraints, busy work schedules, and hectic lives the opportunity to learn when and where they are able. Asynchronous models are particularly conducive to demanding schedules and allow students to learn at their own pace. Additionally, with various technologies available to educators to facilitate grading and deliver feedback, instructors can dedicate more time to creating personalized content and focus on what matters most.

 

  • Online learning is interactive. Learners need to be involved and have agency when it comes to their education, and with so many educational technologies available the possibilities are endless.  Students can get creative and submit assignments in new modalities, such as, video and audio submissions, and can also build e-portfolios that will grow with them.  Additionally, platforms like online discussion boards and collaborative documents allow students to build a sense of community and participate in real-time and asynchronously.

 

  • Online learning promotes skills such as time management, effective communication, and self-motivation. Juggling work, personal, and school calendars is not an easy task, and staying on a consistent schedule, proactively communicating, and meeting deadlines requires large amounts of intrinsic motivation. Students completing fully online programs successfully possess a discipline that would be attractive to any future employer or continuing education entity.

 

  • Online learning fosters independence and develops critical thinking skills. Digital learning settings put students in the driver’s seat of their education and allow them to engage in productive struggle.  Critical thinking is an integral part of education and online learning pushes students to hone this skill in ways that may not be accessed in an in-person setting.

Circling back to the premise that adult learners are not built for online learning – the change starts with us, as educators.  Educators that demonstrate growth mindsets and who actively seek to enable students to believe in their potential are invaluable. Supporting our students’ wellbeing is arguably the most underrated tool in our collective tool belt. When a student is properly motivated, the educational gains that can be made are infinite. I see this point come to life in my practice daily—applying this knowledge has the power to change the way students view themselves and creates pathways for more opportunities.

Before COVID, there were plans to develop an online high school equivalency course to meet the needs of our students. State-level Adult Education administrators sought funding to the initiative which ultimately became the perfect solution when the pandemic began.

In January 2021, the Office of Adult Education in Mississippi was able to hire an Instructional Specialist whose primary role was to create – through research and partnerships – a robust Online HSE program. The program is titled, “E-Dult Online”. The course is built in Canvas – a popular Learning Management System (LMS) and is scheduled for its pilot to launch in July 2021.

Content courses have been developed at three levels: 100, 200, and 300.  Each subject, math, science, social studies, and reading language arts has its own unique course but will follow a standard framework over the span of seven weeks.

One of the program’s key features is the e-Skills Success Series Course and learner portfolio.  This course will serve as an orientation to become an online student and will also provide opportunities for students to build essential communications skills.  Students will have the opportunity to interact with peers, coaches, and instructors in various synchronous and asynchronous formats while attaining their educational, personal, and professional goals.

In a post-pandemic world, change is inevitable.  An intentional online classroom yields incredible power and can help students develop into highly effective critical thinkers, skilled employees, and empowered individuals.  Initiatives in development, that are rooted in these tenants, have the potential to revolutionize adult education in the years to come.

Adoniyya Edwards

Determined to Succeed

Adoniyya Edwards enrolled in August of 2019 with the sole intention to obtain his High School Equivalency Diploma. Adoniyya worked extremely hard—spending long hours on is coursework and taking on extra homework assignments to prepare for his exams.

In February of 2021, Adoniyya reached his goal and obtained his High School Equivalency Diploma.

During his time at Pearl River Community College, he also completed a Smart Start course and received his Smart Start Credential.   

Adoniyya’s instructors had this to say:

“Adoniyya never complained about the amount of work that he needed to do, he simply smiled and said, ‘Whatever it takes.’  He was always positive and full of perseverance—charging ahead to reach his goal while cheering on his classmates to attain their goals as well.”

Adoniyya will attend college next semester and is focused on furthering his education.

 

Beth Frutal

Beth Frutal

Beth Frutal’s Journey to Success

After graduating high school with an occupational diploma, Beth Frutal aimed to earn her GED.  She began working on her high school equivalency diploma in 2017 and methodically worked through each subject saving math for last, as it was her least favorite subject.

By 2018, Beth had passed all subjects in her coursework except for math. She faced many barriers in completing her math courses—barriers that stemmed from disliking the subject and from having a troubled history with math.

“I worked tirelessly on reshaping how she viewed math,” Frutal’s instructor shared. “We made notecards with affirmations, and we wrote down her intentions. Beth came to class every day from 8 to 12 and worked diligently on learning math. We worked relentlessly for a complete school year before she was ready to take her test.”

 

In May 2019, Frutal took her exam and scored a 7 overall—only a few points shy of passing. She wasn’t deterred; she continued to study diligently and re-took her exam in June. Again, Frutal missed passing by only a few points. She was disappointed, but returned to her coursework a few months later when classes were re-opened.

“When we returned Beth came back!” Frutal’s instructor says, “She came religiously on Tuesday and Thursday nights and we worked and worked and worked. We did every kind of practice material, practice test and version of math we could find. We set our goal- take the test by October 25th.  She opted to switch from computer to paper testing. We even set up a dry run to try to eliminate anxiety issues.”

On the day of the exam, tensions were high. Frutal completed her exam on paper and then waited anxiously for her results.

“We waited and we waited and we waited for what felt like an eternity.” Frutal’s instructor says, “Every day, I had Amber check the scores.  After the 9th day we started checking scores every few hours.”

Finally, the results came in. Frutal passed! Her hard work, perseverance, and determination paid off.

Her instructor happily recalls sharing the news with Frutal:

“I could hear her family in the background screaming, ‘Hallelujah! She passed! She passed! Thank you Jesus!!!’ as she screamed ‘ I PASSSED! I PASSED!,’” Frutal’s instructor says, “Oh, it was a wonderful moment.  There are no words to describe that euphoric feeling. She was so proud of herself! She proved to herself that she could do math and in fact she could do anything she was determined to do.”

Beth Frutal’s story truly exemplifies the benefits of perseverance and the importance of supportive instructors in guiding students toward their career and educational goals.

The Importance of Community Partnerships

Adult education programs provide students with essential workplace experience and training. But although these programs are effective, they can be strengthened and improved through community partnerships. 

This extends to the partnership between Holmes Community College (HCC) and Goodwill Industries of Mississippi, which began in order to provide customer service education to individuals with low income. 

The partnership began with Vicki Burton, Goodwill Vice President of Workforce Development, who was interested in providing students with opportunities to learn valuable job skills. Burton had the makings of a workforce training program but felt that the program was missing a key component: adult education. This key component, Burton realized, could only be attained through community partnerships and thus partnered with HCC to actualize the initiative. 

“The ability to provide students with more resources to be successful can only be accomplished through community partnerships”, stated Burton.

On March 22, 2021, after a year of collaboration and strategic planning, HCC and Goodwill kicked off the pilot project “Customer Service Employment Academy (CSEA)”. Located at Goodwill’s training center in Ridgeland, Mississippi, CSEA combined the benefits of workforce training with the efficiency of adult education. 

CSEA provided an extensive six-week program to students who were enrolled in Holmes’ adult literacy and workforce preparation activities (including Smart Start Pathway Course and ACT WorkKeys programs). Students also participated in Goodwill’s workforce training program, which included Customer Service and Sales courses through the National Retail Foundation. 

Students who complete the program receive several credentials that make them more competitive in the job market. These credentials include the Mississippi Smart Start Credential, National Career Readiness Certificate, and the Customer Service and Sales Certificate. CSEA’s first graduating class included nine students who completed the six-week program on May 3, 2021. 

Earline Smith, Director of Adult Education at Holmes Community College, is extremely proud of the partnership with Goodwill. Smith expressed excitement when reflecting on the first group of students saying: 

“This initiative will allow other adult learners to benefit from the various resources and services offered by our adult education program.” 

It is through transformative partnerships, such as the partnership between HCC and Goodwill, and through adult education that students can continue to learn and become more competitive in the job market. 

Congrats to the first CSEA class!

Aline Toloto

Aline Toloto

Aline Toloto and her husband moved to Hattiesburg, Mississippi from Brazil in 2017. Although Aline had taken English courses in Brazil, she found herself woefully unprepared for the demands of speaking to native English speakers.

“I could barely speak or understand what people said,” Toloto says. “It was very hard to communicate my ideas and thoughts clearly.”

During her first two months in Hattiesburg, Toloto focused on improving her English by watching T.V. shows, meeting and speaking with English-speaking friends, and attending social events. It was through her conversations that she heard about Pearl River Community College, and the ESL courses they provided.

“I started attending English classes with teacher Fred Goins,” Toloto says. “His classes motivated me to keep going and trusting that eventually I would achieve English fluency.”

After a year of studies, Toloto put her knowledge to the test and applied to take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). She also applied to a graduate program in the hopes of furthering her education.

“It was very rewarding to see that all the effort I have put into learning a foreign language was worth it,” Toloto says.

Toloto is currently starting her fourth semester of her Master’s Degree in Scenic Design and Technology at USM.

Toloto’s story exemplifies the benefits of hard work, dedication, and focus, and serves as inspiration for students of all backgrounds interested in learning English as a second language.

Kaylee Ridgeway

Kaylee Ridgeway Picture

A Wonderful Opportunity

Kaylee Ridgeway speaks on her experience obtaining her High School Equivalency and pursuing her college education.

“I quit school in the tenth grade. It wasn’t a good decision for me, but I felt as if it was the best thing to do at the time,” Ridgeway says. “I needed to care for my dad who was diagnosed with cancer.”

“After he died, I wanted to get my High School Equivalency. Last year, I finally got to go back and completed all the steps to get my diploma. I passed all of my tests, and it was the best thing I ever did!” Ridgeway says.

Ridgeway is currently pursuing her college education and is on track to becoming a nurse in the Fall of 2021. She has this to say about her experience:

“I’m thankful I had this opportunity so I can do what I’ve always dreamed of doing.”

Payton Tapp

Payton Tapp

The Gateway to Success

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Payton Tapp was determined to continue and complete his education. In March of 2020, Payton began the Smart Start program at Northeast Mississippi Community College (NEMCC), but due to the pandemic, classes were suspended.

However, this didn’t deter Payton. He returned when classes resumed in September and worked diligently to complete his coursework. He was made a candidate for the Gateway program, a job skills and workforce training program, and began the process of enrollment.

He joined the program on October 6. Since his enrollment, Payton has taken advantage of the great opportunities the Gateway program has to offer.

He completed the program’s essential job skills training, obtained his National Career Readiness Certificate (NCRC), and began his paid work experience internship at the Booneville Exxon—all while finishing his requirements to earn his High School Equivalency Diploma.

In a few short weeks, Payton had passed his high school equivalency exam and had fulfilled a total of 160 hours of paid work experience offered by the Gateway program. His experience prepared him for the next stage of his education: NEMCC’s Welding program.

With support from his instructors, counselors, and lessons learned, Payton was prepared for NEMCC’s Welding program and began classes in January of 2021.

He is currently completing NEMCC’s Welding program and credits his Adult Education and Gateway program instructors with the support, insight, and guidance they provided. Payton’s story proves that anything can be achieved through focus and perseverance.

If you are interested in participating in the WIOA Gateway Program, please contact 662.720.7574 for more information.

The Gateway Program is funded by the Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act (WIOA) through Northeast Mississippi Community College, The Mississippi Partnership Board and Three Rivers Planning and Development District. 

#NEMCCGateway #nemccwioagatewayyouth

#WIOA #NEMCCAE #SmartStart #NCRC

#ThisCouldBeYou #SkillUpMississippi

Brandon Denton

Brandon Denton is a shining star in my HSE program. Brandon has currently completed the following three sections of his official GED test: RLA, Science and Social Studies.

He is currently studying for his math exam and he will participate in the new Math Jump Start pilot program.  He is also a Workforce welding/MIBEST student at the AMTC campus.

Brandon’s hard work and determination make him a role model for the other HSE students in my program. He is reliable and always has a great attitude while completing his assignments and responsibilities.

I am excited to see Brandon continue to grow and reach new goals, especially when he begins college and encounters new academic coursework.

Tiffany Wilkes- HSE Instructor, Perkinston campus

Travis Davis

Travis Davis Picture

Succeeding Despite the Pandemic

 

Travis Davis was determined to continue his education despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Travis quickly enrolled at Mississippi Delta Community College (MDCC) and began his Adult Education courses on July 23, 2020, at MDCC’s Moorhead campus.

Not only was Travis able to complete his coursework online, but he also had the option of getting face-to-face instruction from his instructors.

Travis was also enrolled in Smart Start, a workforce readiness program, and learned valuable communication, time-management, and team-building skills. Through his coursework, Travis gained confidence in himself, learned valuable job-related skills, and developed a strong work ethic.

His hard work earned him a NCRC Bronze Certificate, a Smart Start Credential, and his GED. Travis is now moving toward his goal of joining the military. We are extremely proud of Travis and look forward to seeing him meet his goal and prosper in the future!

Mary Bolton

A Story of Perseverance

In 2000, Mary began working on her GED. She worked diligently, and passed her courses, but fell short, by one point, in mathematics. She continued prepping for her exam and decided to take the test again in 2014. By then, however, the exam had changed and frustrated with its new format, Mary decided to take another route for her education.

She enrolled in web-based courses and acquired an online diploma. She worked for 10 years, supporting herself and her three children, without the legitimacy of her education coming into question. However, when she decided to change careers and made strides toward becoming the cafeteria manager at her children’s school, her online diploma was not considered valid. She was given a deadline by her supervisor to have her diploma, or she would lose her position.

Mary was dismayed but was also determined. In the fall of 2019, she enrolled in AE classes and started on the HiSet track. She worked tirelessly through the semester and passed all her courses except for math. In December, Mary attended her night classes right after she finished her shift on Tuesdays and Thursdays. It was difficult for her, as she was often tired, struggled with dyslexia, and needed support for learning the primary math functions.

However, she persevered. She would often study over the weekends, communicate frequently with her instructor, and ask questions about her assignments. She was set on taking the exam the week after spring break, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, her test date was delayed.

But, Mary continued to prep herself for the exam. She frequently called her instructor, sometimes even meeting through Facetime to discuss her math coursework. All the while, she worked a regular shift preparing hundreds of sack lunches at her children’s school.

Then, in June, she decided to take her exam. She was very nervous, and during her exam, her calculator died, only amplifying her anxiety. She didn’t pass her exam but was not deterred from trying again.

In August, she returned to her courses and continued working Tuesday and Thursday nights to improve her math skills. She worked diligently and set her sights on passing her exam in October.

In October, she was able to take her exam. It took nine days for her to receive her scores. The wait was agonizing, but, to her delight, she passed. She shared her results with her instructor who was overjoyed at the news.

Mary’s story exemplifies the benefits of hard work, perseverance, and commitment. Despite all of her adversities, anxieties, and set-backs, Mary was able to obtain her diploma, continue her career, and provide support for her family.

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