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.

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

Learning How To Teach Distance Learning

Northeast Mississippi Community College Distance Learning during COVID-19 pandemic

In the spring of 2020, Jeremiah Hartman joined thousands of educators around the world who had to quickly pivot to online learning at the start of the COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S.  Hartman is an instructor in the Adult Education Program at Northeast Mississippi Community College (NEMCC). He says he and other instructors were preparing to return from Spring Break and begin a strong finish to the spring semester when he got the news about moving courses online to help slow the spread of the virus.

“Very quickly, we all realized that this would not be a typical spring,” Hartman remembers. “We figured out Google Classroom, Canvas, Zoom, Facebook Live, and a host of other distance learning delivery options.” Hartman had his colleagues also spent many hours preparing learning packets to distribute to students who, for various reasons, were unable to access the internet to continue their studies.

Hartman says his home became his classroom. “We transformed dining room tables and back bedrooms into classrooms and office space and managed to teach productive lessons and keep student contact despite our pets, children, and spouses also sharing the same spaces.” Although instructors at NEMCC thought the distance learning was only temporary, as the days and weeks continued, it became evident that he would not see the spring students in person that semester.

“During this crisis, educators have once again done what we always do. We have put the needs of our students and programs above the personal ambitions we may have,” Hartman says. And although the transition was difficult at first, he has found a rhythm and was even able to reach a new group of learners. “With distance learning, I have been able to help students who otherwise might not have been able to start or complete their education.”

Most of all, Hartman says the COVID-19 pandemic taught him how to be flexible and adaptable in the new virtual environment to meet the various needs of his students. However, one of the most important lessons he has learned is that educators have a responsibility to continue to learn and adapt to a digital learning environment. “At the end of the day, my COVID-19 success story doesn’t involve a student, but that is okay because it involves a whole profession of people who have worked hard and persevered to endure in the face of unforeseen challenges and unknown outcomes.

Find Something New:
Tools to help you discover a new career

New tool advances online learning and career exploration

Trying to find a rewarding career is often a long and difficult process. Sometimes it takes several tries before we find the right job that pays enough money to take care of our families. While the COVID-19 pandemic has made it more difficult, in many cases, to find work, the virus has also accelerated the development of online learning resources and platforms that can help people move into a family-sustaining and rewarding career at a faster pace.

One of these new resources is the Find Something New website by The American Workforce Policy Advisory Board. The online tool is designed to help people all over the country discover a new, rewarding career. The site has information about online learning, certifications, apprenticeship, vocational-technical education programs, and higher education resources. You can also learn about rising career opportunities such as aerospace engineering and operations, broadcast and sound engineering, computer support specialists, contact tracers, website development, radiologic/MRI technicians, and other good-paying jobs.

On the site, you can read stories of real people who took an unconventional path to learn a new skill and whose lives were changed by finding a career that worked for them. You can join people across the country who are gaining new skills and securing life-changing careers. Start your path today by visiting the website.

You can also learn more about programs offered at each of Mississippi’s 15 community colleges by visiting our interactive map. We offer several career pathways and adult education programs that are helping people in our state succeed.

The American Workforce Policy Advisory Board is co-chaired by Advisor to the President, Ivanka Trump, and Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. Find something new was created in conjunction with The Ad Council.

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.

Get a Smart Start to Your Future

Author: Bronwyn Robertson
Program Specialist for Workforce & Employer Engagement
Mississippi Community College Board

The job market in the U.S. and Mississippi continues to evolve and become increasingly more competitive. The COVID-19 pandemic has devastated local economies and left thousands of Mississippians without jobs. The current economic environment makes it even more critical for people to take steps to gain the skills and education to secure in-demand jobs in our state.

Mississippi continues to have a gap in people qualified for middle-skills jobs, which require education beyond high school but not a four-year degree. Mississippi’s 15 community colleges have programs to help close this gap and get people into careers as electricians, dental hygienists, paralegals, health technicians, and many others.

In addition to gaining the skills needed to compete for these rewarding and family-sustaining careers, workers should also focus on ramping up their soft skills such as teamwork, leadership, conflict resolution, flexibility, and problem-solving.

The Smart Start program equips students with vital career readiness skills and industry-recognized credentials that increase employability.

Smart Start students participate in a 45-hour intensive course that teaches them how to apply their specialized skills beyond the classroom and gives them an opportunity to complete the National Career Readiness Credential (NCRC). The NCRC signals to employers that a person has the essential skills for workplace success no matter what career path they choose.

Smart Start and the NCRC are making a tremendous difference for Mississippi’s workforce. Since 2016 more than 6,200 Mississippians received Smart Start credentials and over 8,600 NCRC’s were issued. Students who enroll in Smart Start are also experiencing significant progress toward earning a High School Equivalency Diploma (HSE).

Smart Start students earn an HSE at triple the rate of students who do not enroll in the program.

You can learn more about how these programs are strengthening Mississippi’s workforce and ensuring more people have the skills they need to secure meaningful employment by listening to my interview on the ACT Ready to Work – Workforce Development Podcast.

If you are interested in starting your career journey, email us today at skillup@mccb.edu. We look forward to connecting you to a program in your area.

Take Your Skill and Future to the Next Level

Authored by Dr. Andrea Mayfield
Executive Director of the Mississippi Community College Board (MCCB)

In the world we find ourselves living today, education and training is at premium now more than ever before. Studies show the amount of education and training a person receives ties directly to the amount of income earned along with many other factors associated to living a happy, successful life. In fact, a high school dropout will earn on average, $30,800 a year. For someone with a high school diploma, that amounts increases to $40,500, and for someone with an associate’s degree from a community college, the average is $50,100. Of course, additional education typically means a higher salary.

If you are among the many thousands without a high school diploma, you may feel stuck or at a dead end, but I want to let you know that is not the case. In Mississippi, our 15 community colleges are equipped to take all students, regardless of their educational background, and put them in a position to be successful throughout life. All of our colleges provide free adult education programs that allow someone to earn a high school equivalency degree. As you know, once you have earned that degree, other higher education doors are immediately opened that lead to other certificates, credentials, or degrees that employers look for when hiring. There is one important caveat, and that is students must be willing to put in the work in order to accomplish these goals.

Our community colleges even have specific programs to help you. The Mississippi Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training program, or MIBEST, takes those who have dropped out of high school and simultaneously enrolls them in high school equivalency and certain career and technical education programs. The result is students have the opportunity to finish the program in less time and more degrees and credentials. There are even support staff assigned to students to help them throughout the programs. Because of the generous support of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, financial resources are available to help cover the cost of the program.

In addition to MIBEST, each community college offers career and technical education programs along with workforce training that allow you to obtain the skills and training to quickly transition into careers such as nursing, commercial truck driving, welding, HVAC, and many other high-demand jobs. Because of prior choices, you may think you are unable to find a quality, good paying job. I am here to tell you that’s not the case because our community colleges will help put you in a position to be successful in life, no matter what your academic history might be. If you reach out to a community college to help, I can assure they will do whatever they can to put you in a place to be successful!

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