Brandon Denton

Brandon Denton Picture

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.

Perfect Storm

Authored by: Dr. Krista M. LeBrun

Executive Director, eLearning & Instructional Technology (MCCB)

“Thy fate is the common fate of all; Into each life some rain must fall. “

~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I don’t think anyone aspires to be a high school dropout.

Often, when I listen to stories of others’ trials and tribulations, there is a moment in time, a perfect storm of events, which caused life to veer off course. It’s difficult for me to pinpoint that moment in time for myself. I don’t feel as though I have some audacious story; nothing happened on a dark and stormy night. I was not a teenage statistic. I did not get pregnant nor suffer from addiction.

Rather, moments occurred much like the rain.  A soft mist at first, then a drizzle…with each droplet washing away a piece of my youth. Like a heavy rain cloud, a storm can only be contained for so long, and my dreams of graduating from high school washed away during my freshman year with the downpour.

In my experience, a ninth-grade dropout becomes ostracized and assumptions are made without regard for the person’s feelings or abilities.  People assumed that I had a baby at home, that I was a trouble maker, or that I simply did not care enough about myself or my education. While I did not consider myself to be popular and outgoing, I enjoyed learning and idolized my teachers. I longed for the experience from the movie The Dead Poet’s Society, in which John Keating, portrayed by Robin Williams, stood atop a desk and enthusiastically encouraged his students to Carpe Diem (seize the day).

By the age of sixteen, I was living with a colleague who had recently dropped out of college. Lost in life together, we lived in a small trailer on the outskirts of town while working menial paying jobs at the shopping mall. Former classmates were studying, planning proms, and attending parties; I was balancing a checkbook, shopping for groceries, and resting in between working multiple jobs.

During those early years, I learned that people look at you one of two ways when they find out you dropped out of school at such a young age: pity or condemnation. Either way, I suppose at some point I was tired of receiving the look. I was tired of the comments and accusations, tired of working and never getting ahead, and tired of missing out on moments that others took for granted.

I am grateful that I eventually received my John Keating moment. It came in the form of Ms. Browning Rochefort. She was the Director of Adult Education at Meridian Community College, and she was the first person who didn’t give me “the look” when I told her I was a ninth-grade dropout. She was warm and kind, and she told me that I had potential.  I didn’t realize at the time what a profound effect she would have on my life.

With a focus on achieving my GED in an effort to obtain a higher-paying job, Ms. Rochefort did her best to instill in me the confidence that I had lost somewhere along the way.  I was still very unsure of myself on the day I sat for my exams. After completing them, I left for work, fearing I had just wasted precious money that was earmarked for bills.

A few weeks later a manila envelope showed up in my mailbox.  It was an inconspicuous piece of mail that transformed me from a high school dropout to a GED recipient. For the first time in a long while, I felt as though I was somebody. I moved around for a while in hopes of finding my place in the world. But, ultimately, I fell back into the rut of paying bills, balancing budgets, and becoming tired all over again.

There were new looks and comments. I remember someone once told me that a GED simply stood for a “good enough diploma,” but my GED meant more to me than most will ever know. It meant that I did not drown in that downpour. I was capable of doing the things Ms. Rochefort recommended, and I was determined to prove everyone who doubted me wrong. Eventually, I found myself back at Ms. Rochefort’s door, eager to move to the next chapter of my life. I had no clue what I wanted to be or what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted a college diploma to hang next to my GED.

While life continues to rain down from time to time, I was able to achieve my goal of hanging a college diploma next to my GED. In fact, after earning my Associates, I went on to earn my Bachelors, Masters, and Doctoral degrees. Never in my youth could I have imagined that I would one day turn a GED into a Ph.D.  My collegiate endeavors placed me on a path which redefined my love for learning and spearheaded the career I greatly value.  Currently, I use my experience and passion to serve as the Assistant Executive Director for eLearning and Instructional Technology at the Mississippi Community College Board. In a small way, I get to contribute to the amazing community college system that helped shape who I am today.

David Chapman Burress

The Benefits of Perseverance

In August of 2020, sixteen-year-old David Chapman Burress decided to start his college plan early and enrolled in the Adult Education program at Northeast Mississippi Community College (NEMCC).

After beginning the program, David found that the Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act (WIOA) Gateway Youth Program provided an excellent opportunity to acquire work experience. He began taking NEMCC’s Industrial Maintenance classes. The training sessions were long and challenging, but he persevered.

His hard work paid off and, in a few months, he completed his Smart Start course and received his High School Equivalency Diploma— all on the same day.

After completing his Industrial Maintenance courses, David plans to enroll in the Welding Program on the Northeast campus. He is grateful every day that he decided to get an early start to college and is excited about his future.

Adult Education on Demand: Introducing the Skill UP Mississippi Podcast

New podcast to focus on highlighting the impact of Adult Education for Mississippi residents

Authored By: Bronwyn Robertson, Program Specialist for Workforce & Employer Engagement at the Mississippi Community College Board

One of my dearest friends was diagnosed with breast cancer several years ago. As she learned more about this disease, she wanted to create more awareness of its effects. As she was handing out pink ribbons, she told a gentleman, “Here’s a pink ribbon for you to wear for breast cancer awareness.” To her amazement, he said, “You don’t think I’m aware of breast cancer?” I think of that story whenever we in adult education say we’re trying to create awareness about adult education through our initiative, Skill UP Mississippi. Do we believe people are not aware of the tremendous need in our state for adult education? With over 361,000 adults without a high school diploma, many Mississippians already know about this issue. However, they may not be aware of how adult education impacts Mississippi’s ability to create and keep jobs or how having more citizens with a high school diploma can help create a thriving Mississippi economy. They also might not know how people’s lives are changed when they can secure a better job.  We have to get better at telling our story—and, more importantly, our students’ stories. That’s where Skill UP Mississippi comes in. It’s not solely about telling people what adult education is. It’s about sharing how our communities and state are changed for the better when more people have a high school diploma.  It’s about letting employers know about programs such as Smart Start, MIBEST, and pre-apprenticeships that help our students earn stacked credentials while earning a high school equivalency diploma. It’s about making sure our students know how learning new skills can help them find jobs that will pay them enough money to support their families. That’s why we created the Adult Education on Demand podcast that we will post monthly to the Skill UP Mississippi YouTube Channel. Our goal is to keep you up-to-date about what’s happening in adult education while telling our students’ stories of struggle, success, trial, and triumph. Join us and find out how adult education is making life better for our students, our communities—our state.
Bronwyn Robertson, Program Specialist for Workforce & Employer Engagement at Mississippi Community College Board and Nitkitna Barnes, MIBEST, Mississippi Community College Board

Shengfang Du

Shengfang Du picture

About two years ago, 80-year-old Chinese student Shengfang Du started attending my ESL class when I was still teaching at Jackson Public Schools. The very first minute we met, we engaged in a very nice conversation and she stated that she wanted to improve her English. She attended every single class and participated intensively. Since she did not have a car, she walked from her apartment to school every day.
However, after the JPS ESL program ended, Sheng was unable to attend classes at Hinds Community College because no transportation was available.

Once the Corona Virus pandemic reached us back in March of 2020, we had no choice but to start teaching online classes from home and this is when Sheng took the advantage and re-joined my class. She has kept an excellent attendance since then.

Her Bio: Sheng moved to MS 10 years ago when she became a US citizen following her dream to be with her son to start a new life in the USA. Sheng had a successful career in China before she retired as a MD and PhD researcher. She worked on research on viral infectious disease vaccination epidemiological investigation, such as Influenza and Polio, and contributed in class every time we talk about health systems, the pandemic, hospitals, etc.

As Sheng states: “Being in class has helped me meet new friends, go grocery shopping without any fears and discuss Biology with my grandson who is a sophomore in high school.”

Note: Sheng’s teacher encouraged her to register to vote. Sheng did and received her Voter Registration Card in the mail and will exercise her right to vote in the November election.

Arvind and Varsha Patel

Arvind & Varsha Citizenship

English is a prominent language spoken in the United States. Being a non-English speaking person, we found communicating with others really difficult. One day, we decided to find ESL classes offered in our town. After we found ESL classes, we decided to attend classes to learn the basics of English. When we told our teacher that we had filled out our citizenship form, she started making us practice the citizenship questions. In order to help us more, she organized one on one interviews. She also made us familiar by making us write the English language. She also made sure that our pronunciation was correct. She made us play games in order to make learning fun. We believe that attending the ESL classes made it easier for us to pass our citizenship test. We are really glad to attend the ESL class. We would encourage others to join the ESL class in their area.

More than the English Language

Mississippi’s Community Colleges Provide Supportive Learning Environments for English Language Learners

For some individuals immigrating to the United States, learning the English language can be challenging. However, the adult education programs at Mississippi’s 15 community colleges are prepared to meet the needs of students learning English as a Second Language (ESL). These community colleges offer robust, yet flexible programs that provide supportive learning environments for their students. 

Most importantly, students are connected to instructors that they can relate to. Many of the instructors have immigrated from other countries and have gone through the process of learning the English language. Three such instructors are described here and their stories emphasize the importance of ESL programs in Mississippi.

Renata Gil moved from Brazil to Jackson, Mississippi in 2001. She started volunteering for the Jackson Public Schools computer lab to assist GED and ESL students who came to practice their English. Now she teaches ESL at Hinds Community College (HCC). “It’s a passion. I love what I do,” Gil says. She says the program divides students into two levels to make them more comfortable learning. She encourages immigrants to join the program. “We welcome everybody. It’s imperative for [them] to communicate. Mainly what I focus on is listening and speaking because they have to be ready to go grocery shopping, communicate with their kids’ teachers. It’s just so important in real life,” Gil says.

Jane Nguyen-Campo is an ESL instructor for Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College (MGCCC). She says that she teaches students whose knowledge of the language varies significantly. “Some of them have been in the states for a few weeks but some of them have been here for a few years. We get a big difference in learning levels,” she said. The program does more than help students learn English. Nguyen-Campo says that ESL helps students become familiar with and integrate into American culture. Students participate in American holidays, learn about American history, and prepare to become candidates for American citizenship. 

“It is up to us to help them— to show and guide them where they want to be. ESL consists of so many things: language, culture, life skills,” said Gil. “For me, my students’ stories and backgrounds matter the most. It’s so important to listen to their stories.” She tells of how she spoke to an 80-year old student from China and asked her about her background. “I was a medical doctor, and I was studying the poliovirus,” the student shared. “ I was so impressed,” said Nguyen-Campo. 

Sonia Gonzalez is an ESL instructor at Jones Community College (JCC). Gonzalez has a Master’s degree in Modern Languages from the University of Mississippi and says she pursued her degree and career because she has a heart for English language learners. Gonzalez immigrated to the U.S. from Chile and she says her experiences help her relate better to her students. “I have people from China, people from Ukraine, people from Mexico and Venezuela. I have a bunch of people from other countries that are here because they want to have a better life,” Gonzalez said. In addition to learning English to become more independent, Gonzalez says her students want to learn to communicate with their children’s teachers and to find good jobs to support their families.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the number of ESL students enrolled in elementary and secondary schools in Mississippi has increased significantly from 2000 to 2017 from 2,176 to 12,865— indicating an overall increase in families who might benefit from an ESL program at a community college.

Mississippi’s ESL programs are meeting the needs of immigrants and other language learners in our state.  The programs not only give students practical language skills but also prepare them for life in the U.S. If you are interested in learning more or want to find a program in your community, visit our interactive program map.

Ruby Smith

Ruby Smith

Written by Chuck Abadie
PRCC Communications Assistant

Ruby Smith said the director of adult education at Pearl River Community College was a dream. Her dream became a reality July 1.

“My ultimate goal was this position,” said Smith. “At 36, I did not expect to make director this soon. But when you are at the door of your ultimate goal, it is very fulfilling to see it come into play.”

Smith, a native of Lumberton, has been a part of the adult education – formerly GED – program at PRCC for 18 years now. She says she understands the challenges that come with being the director.

She oversees a staff of some 30 people, who are mostly instructors and support staff. She makes sure they are well equipped with the items they need. Her office is in Poplarville but she directs adult education programs in PRCC’s six-county district, from Hancock County to Jeff Davis County.

“I work with some amazing staff,” she said. “They are as excited about helping these people as I have been.”

Student target numbers are important when it comes to adult education. PRCC’s program ranks as one of the tops in the state.

“This past year, we had 1,500 people walk through our doors,” she said. “Right at 800 of them stayed and participated in our classes. We graduated 258 in May. We will graduate anywhere from 250 to 300 each year.”

Keeping students on track is a challenge because most of them come from different backgrounds, or from different family situations.

“So many of them come back to school to better themselves,” said Smith. “They are reaching for a better education or better jobs. I have had moms come back just to show their kids that they can come back and will not give up. It’s very rewarding, very fulfilling to see.”

Students may range in age from 16 to 87.

“I can’t tell you the number of stories I’ve seen of single moms who have lost their children, gotten their lives back in order with us and they were able to get their children back,” she said. “Things in life happen to them, some are sad things.

“That’s why I tell people, we are not just here to help them reach their educational goals. We also serve as counselors. They have never had that encouragement. I’ve always said part of our job is to be cheerleaders. It is up to us to let them know their value to society.”

Students come from all walks of life, determined not to go down a path of despair.

“I had one student who got his diploma without much support from home,” said Smith. “He has a job now and he is doing fantastic. Everybody is different. Some had family illnesses that forced them to quit school and work to help the family. Then they find us when their lives are more balanced.”

The prospect of becoming an adult education director struck Smith early on, courtesy of her mom, Donna Lumpkin, and Dr. Sharon Ballou, who was teaching GED classes in Lumberton. She became an assistant teacher in 2001, helping grade papers and doing some one-on-one tutoring.

She continued that role while earning her associate’s degree from PRCC in 2004 and a B.S. in business administration from the University of Southern Mississippi in December, 2006. In January 2007, she became a fulltime adult education instructor.

“They worked around my schedule while I was in college,” she said. “At USM, I majored in marketing, but I always intended to stay in adult education. I just needed a bachelor’s to become full time.”

She has seen the adult education program evolve in many ways during her tenure.

“When I started, everything was paper and pencil, all the GED testing and the assessments” she said. “Then around 2014, the GED test became computer based. I remember it terrified the students, and the teachers as well because there were so many unknowns. We were all adjusting to the computer age.”

At the time, computers chased many students away from the program. As the adult education coordinator (2015-18) and assistant director of adult education (2018-19), she played a role in bringing the students back and increasing the number of graduates.

“Ruby has helped adult education evolve into a comprehensive program that continues to change the lives of thousands if Mississippians,” said Terri Clark, Dean of Workforce and Community Development at PRCC. “She is a humble, servant leader. With her experience, she can provide leadership to ensure this program remains one of the tops in the state.”

Smith, who is married with a 10-year-old daughter, has some goals in mind for the PRCC program.

“I want our program to exceed the state target each year,” she said. “We want a record enrollment and record number of graduates. We want students who start the program with us to stay with us. We do that by offering them a warm environment.

“These people really pull at your heart strings. I would like to see more of them go on to college, reach their education goals and provide for their families.”

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