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.

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.

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) 576-1561 | SKILLUP@MCCB.EDU |