Breaking the ‘School to Prison’ Pipeline

In 2017, County Court Judge Staci O’Neal sought a way to solve the “school to prison” pipeline in Madison County. Assigned to juvenile courts, Judge O’Neal witnessed numerous teenagers entering youth court who had already dropped out of school or had little chance of completing a high school education. The lack of options to assist these students had become a problem.

Currently, 49% of youth on probation in Madison County are failing school and are below their grade level. Ten percent of those on probation have already dropped out of school. We make no determination as to which came first – educational failure or behavioral failure. However, we are hopeful that by redirecting youth towards the workforce while they are under the jurisdiction of the Youth Court, we can assist in minimizing the percentage of those who would otherwise end up in adult incarceration and subsequently increase the rate of youth contributing to our community’s workforce.

Madison County Jobs4Youth is a 4-phase program ordered during the disposition of youth court hearings. Phase 1 consists of daily attendance in a small classroom and one-on-one setting to obtain the student’s GED. In Phase 2, students complete the Smart Start course while preparing and receiving the National Career Readiness Certificate. During phase 3, students are placed in paid job internships with local business partners that give them workplace experience while saving money for post-program education. Phase 4 is a one-year relationship designed to continue to provide needed support for students after leaving our daily program.

The Jobs4Youth program has given students second chances in otherwise hopeless situations for the last four years. With supportive partners such as the Central Mississippi Planning and Development District, Holmes Community College, Skill Mississippi, and many others, we hope to continue serving the youth of Madison County for years to come.


Steven Ross
Case Manager

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.

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!

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 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!

3825 RIDGEWOOD RD, JACKSON, MS 39211 | (601) 432-6518 | SKILLUP@MCCB.EDU |