The first time Felicia took the Math portion of the HiSET, she was below passing by one point and ended up scoring below passing 5 times prior to enrolling in eDULT. The staff at Hinds would not let her give up. After the first class meeting, Felicia said, “I’m not the only one who struggles with math. There are many people across the state who have the same issue as I do.” That was the motivation she needed to persevere. Felicia completed the program, increased her TABE score by 46 points, and earned an MSG. She also was able to pass the math portion and earn her HSE. Now Felicia is enrolled in Welding.
“I’d rather have options.”
Self-reliant adult-ed grad makes her own way at an early age.
Kayleigh Grimes finished her first semester of college recently. At age 16. Not bad for someone who didn’t finish high school.
“The day I had my accident I was already talking to them about homeschool,” she says of her withdrawal meeting with the high school she attended, soon after a car wreck that kept her out of classes for three months—the lethal blow to her high-school career. “I have really bad depression and anxiety, and so it’s like a constant battle.”
That battle, and others—growing up in several different towns, falling behind in school due to a horrific accident, working full-time at a young age—might have left anyone else dejected. Kayleigh only became more determined, more self-reliant. “I don’t think about anybody else when I see my future, because everybody leaves at one point in your life,” she says. While this might seem pessimistic, especially for a teenager, Kayleigh’s situation is different, and therefore her approach is different. She has had to figure out a lot on her own, through life experience.
Take her experience in earning her high-school-equivalency diploma through Northeast Mississippi Community College. “It [enrolling in the program] wasn’t that bad because I had a friend doing it with me. It was something we both agreed to do. Then after two days she split,” Kayleigh says, laughing.
Left on her own, Kayleigh trudged on, despite her challenges. According to Deanne Droke, one of Kayleigh’s instructors, “Kayleigh didn’t attend regular classes because of how much she had to work, but when she came in the afternoons and evenings, she was always ready to work. She always had a smile on her face no matter what stresses were going on in her life. She was a treasure.”
Once Kayleigh got started, the pieces fell into place rather quickly. She completed the short work-skills curriculum Smart Start, blazed through the subject-matter test preparation, aced the HiSET (the equivalent of the GED test in Mississippi), and set her sights on college (again, at age sixteen). Balancing her work and school schedule with her specific housing challenges says Droke, “She stayed with whoever let her lay her head down at their home.”
“The people I lived with liked to stay out and do stuff. And then there was me, just wanting to go home and go to bed—and at the same time, you know, you only live once.” Kayleigh moved forward, working with Northeast’s adult education and college-faculty advising staff to enroll in college. “College is something I’ve always wanted to experience,” she says, “because I’ve never wanted to be stuck in this town—or state, for that matter. I know how to get out without a college degree, but I’d rather have options.”
Her first semester behind her, now awaiting the start of her second, still working full-time, she looks forward to her future while dealing with the challenge of her busy life—any way she can. “Trying to keep my grades up on top of the stress and working full-time—it gets difficult to juggle,” she says. “I think the main thing [that keeps me going] is…I didn’t know Northeast had a Starbucks!”
Besides caffeine and sheer grit, Kayleigh relies on another time-honored method for navigating life. “I write all the time. I’m really bad at poetry, but I still attempt it,” she says. “Sometimes I just write down my thoughts.”
What inspires her? “I like poetry and I like quotes. That’s why everybody’s on Tik Tok now and I’m still on Pinterest from like 3 years ago.”
“When I was younger,” she says (again: sixteen), “I tried to write a book. I wrote half of it, and then found something else to spend my time on.” Understandable; she was in “probably the ninth grade”.
And what does she write now, at the ripe old age of barely seventeen? “I normally write fiction, fantasy—where I would like to see myself. With hardships that you must get through. Nothing like Cinderella.”
Through all the moving around, getting knocked down, getting back up; feeling her way through her young, prematurely mature life, Kayleigh keeps her perspective. She knows what she wants and needs, what she plans for her future. “I want to have the kind of money that my family never had—to be financially stable,” she says, though that’s not all that success means to her. “It means you get a better life than you had when you were younger, and you get to a point in your life where you say, ‘OK, I’m fine with living like this—not moving around all the time; being somewhere that you want to be that makes you happy; not having to think about, ‘Well, what am I gonna do tomorrow?’”
It sounds cliche to say that she lives for today. But Kayleigh seems to know that that’s the only day anyone is ever assured of. And the only time anyone can learn anything. She learns and grows, now, for a better future. That is something anyone, of any age, can learn from.
When Osagie “Michael” Momoh arrived in the United States in 2017, he knew he wanted to further his education. In Nigeria, Africa, he had completed an Associate’s degree in Business Management. However, that was not beneficial for him in America. He began looking online at schooling options only to find out that he would need a High School Equivalency (HSE). That’s when Michael contacted East Mississippi Community College’s Adult Education Program. Although he worked a full-time job, the Launch Pad’s flexible classes allowed him the opportunity to continue working while pursuing his HSE. In December 2020, Michael not only completed his HSE diploma, but he also completed the Smart Start Curriculum, a job readiness component, and earned a Silver on the ACT-WorkKeys® National Career Readiness Certificate. For Michael, obtaining his HSE and enrolling in EMCC’s Computer Networking Program in spring 2021 was a dream come true.
Michael has completed two full semesters in the computer networking program, all while maintaining a full-time job.
Michael has previously stated, “having to start over with my education was a challenge. Enrolling in the Launch Pad was a great experience for me as I had been out of school for a long time. My thought was that I would only focus on getting my HSE, but taking the Smart Start class, earning my WorkKeys®, and enrolling in a post-secondary program has helped me prepare for a career and provide for my family.”
Michael was recognized in October 2021 by 2nd Chance MS for his academic success.
Candice Hammond’s life story is similar to many Jackson County Drug Court participants; however, what sets her apart is her determination and commitment to turning her life around. Candice dropped out of school in the 8th grade and soon turned to drugs in the face of obstacles and adversity. “I thought this was my path in life. I was in this cycle of addiction, and knew that eventually, this choice would lead to my death.” The opportunity to participate in the Jackson County Drug Court system changed her path and gave her the second chance she needed to turn her life around.
Candice was referred to the Adult Education program at the Pascagoula Adult Learning Center through the Jackson County Drug Court and enrolled in our High School Equivalency program in September of 2019. Initially, her lack of confidence and fear of failure hindered her progress; however, Candice soon realized that failure was not an option! Candice is quick to credit the support of her family, especially her mother; a tough Circuit Court Judge who pushed her to earn her diploma and workforce credentials; the caseworkers and support counselors of the 19th Circuit Court District; the faculty and staff of the Pascagoula Adult Learning Center; and the support and words of encouragement offered by her fellow drug court participants for her success. “I could not have finished this program without the support of individuals who believed in me, pushed me to my limits, offered words of encouragement, and continue to support me.” Through hard work, perseverance, and determination Candice earned her High School Equivalency Diploma in March 2021. Candice also enrolled in our workforce and employability classes and earned both an MS Smart Start Workforce Credential and a National Career Readiness Credential, Silver Level in 2021. While attending the Jackson County Reentry Job Fair in April 2021, Candice successfully gained employment at one of the local casinos.
Candice’s story of accomplishment can serve as an example for all Opioid Grant participants. Her life journey continues with a newfound confidence that there are better days ahead and the knowledge that she has acquired the skills she needs to be a productive member of the Jackson County community.
Jaime Avila dropped out of school in the 10th grade — not because of discipline issues, failing grades, or lack of ambition. He did it for his family.
“Being Hispanic here at the time was really difficult for my parents; they didn’t speak very good English,” he says. “There were a lot of furniture companies at the time and I was hearing about people making good money…I saw that my dad was struggling at work, putting all those hours in, so I just decided to go ahead and jump to it.”
Foregoing high school and his goal of following in a cousin’s footsteps to the military, Jaime went to work building furniture, sacrificing his dreams of the future to the demands of the present. A few years later, he decided to enroll in Northeast Mississippi Community College’s Adult Education program to earn a high-school-equivalency diploma. His full-time job was a major obstacle. “I would get off really late, and it was always a struggle to get off work and run up here [to the classroom],” he says. “It was very difficult asking permission to get off work early. Then work slowed down and I couldn’t really ask for the time off because they really needed people to be there. That was always the big challenge.”
This led to a piecemeal approach; he came to class when he could. It took a few years, but he never gave up. He got his diploma, and it was worth all the trouble. “It helped me look at life differently,” he says. “There is a lot more opportunity for better jobs. Before I finished the HiSET [exam] and got my diploma, I really felt like I was stuck. Now I hear about all these opportunities. And better pay. A lot better pay. That’s what’s really motivated me.”
Fresh off his success in earning his diploma, Jaime set his sights higher. Working with Northeast’s adult-ed advising staff, he decided to pursue a career as an electrician. “I’ve done a couple of construction jobs in the past, and it always caught my attention, how everything works,” he says. “I just find it amazing how a simple wire lights up a whole building.”
He began his college career during the summer, taking College Algebra and English Composition I. Tina Gambill was his English Comp instructor. “Jaime attended English Composition I under my instruction during June and July,” she says. “Even though this was a summer course, he was present for every class meeting, which I believe says so much about his dedication and perseverance. I know there were a few times when he felt discouraged for various reasons, but he was a hard worker and never complained. I was so proud to see him succeed in this course, and I am sure his attitude will lead to more successes.”
A native-born Californian who has spoken English all his life, Jaime felt confident going into English Comp. Algebra was a different story.
“I kind of restricted myself before I started [the algebra class], because I thought, ‘This is going to be so difficult.’ That was my biggest challenge throughout high school — math,” he says. “But once I got to it, [I realized that] if you really want it, you will be able to do it. The teacher was awesome, I understood everything she was talking about, and I was really surprised with my final grade. If you really pay attention and do the work, there is no challenge.” (Neuroscience supports this notion; attention is vital for adults to trigger the brain changes necessary for learning.) His algebra instructor, Bonnie Wanner, concurs that he earned his grade by learning from the past. “He knew that the mistakes he had made in his education in the past were not going to hinder him this time,” she says. “He was dedicated to succeeding this time.”
“I would love,” she says, “to have an entire classroom of Jaimes.”
But that was summer. The time commitment for his classes amounted to only a couple of hours a day, allowing him to continue working full-time. Then came the fall semester, and a full schedule, and the return of Jaime’s tug-of-war between work and school, present needs, and future ambition. This time, with the help of his own family, the future won out.
He talked to his employer about reducing his hours to allow him to attend classes, but “they couldn’t work with my schedule,” he says. “I got home and talked to my wife, and I said, ‘Either I do this now and get better, or I get stuck in the same situation where I have always been.’ And she said, ‘It’s going to be a struggle, but we can make it.’”
Jaime is a college freshman now with a full class load — studying hard, staying focused, and, as always, taking care of his family. But now in a different way. “It [attending college] is a good example for my [10-year-old] son because he’s starting to notice everything. I tell him how awesome college is, and he’s actually getting more focused. When I get home, I talk to him, and he asks, ‘How was school today? What did you do?’ He’s excited about going to school.”
As a younger man, Jaime sacrificed his dream to take care of his family: first his parents, then his wife and children. Now, with their support, he is pursuing a different dream, and perhaps an even better one — electricians, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, earn $56,900 a year on average, with a job outlook that is much higher than the average for all positions.
His advice for anyone considering doing what he has done? “It’s never too late. If you want to do it, now is the time to do it. You can go to your job every day and do what you have to do, or you can do something that you love and get paid better.”
Making a Pathway to Success
Although Reanna was nervous about pursuing higher education, she was focused on obtaining her HSE and making a pathway for herself to pursue career advancement opportunities.
Reanna Stasney had never attended public school before enrolling in the NEMCC Adult Education program, but she had worked on cars. Being new to Northeast Mississippi, Stasney and her mother were extremely excited to hear about the programs offered at NEMCC.
“This was an opportunity that I could not pass up,” said Stasney.
Before completing Smart Start, she was enrolled in the WIOA Gateway Youth Program. Stasney earned essential job skills, the NCRC, resume-writing and communication skills, and much more through the Gateway program.
Because of Stasney’s hard work and dedication, she was recommended to attend the MIBEST program by her instructors, Gateway Career Specialist, and Transitions Specialist. She was accepted into MIBEST, and has taken full advantage of the program’s benefits. She earned her HSE in December 2019 and is now a full-time student at NEMCC where she majors in Auto Mechanics.
Stasney continues to work part-time while attending college to pursue her dream of becoming a mechanic. After earning her Automotive degree, she hopes to get a job working on older model vehicles.
“I am so glad that we moved to Corinth and that I walked into the NEMCC adult ed office in the fall of 2019,” says Stasney. “By enrolling at Northeast, I was able to pursue my education and career.”
Stasney is marrying her fiancé, who is also majoring in Automotive Mechanics, in the fall of 2021. They plan to pursue a career together and open their own business one day. With the dedication she has displayed thus far, working hard and staying focused through numerous obstacles, she is bound for success.
Originally published by Jones College News and Events
ELLISVILLE – Most know Mariano Arellano in Hattiesburg as the owner of La Fiesta Brava asking on TV, “How about lunch?” Now the 54-year-old is asking, “How about a career?” After serving thousands over the last 26 years, the impact of COVID-19 forced Arellano to sell his restaurant. With more people staying home, paying the bills became overwhelming.
“I never expected to close my business like I did. I was behind in payments, and I didn’t want to put my house at risk,” said Arellano. “I spent half of my life in the restaurant business and now I feel like I lost a member of my family. I feel like I lost everything. I was very depressed.”
But before the doors closed permanently, a customer suggested Arellano should explore some options through Jones College’s Workforce College. Building things always interested the former restauranteur, so after a few phone calls, he was signed up for the welding program.
“When I got to Jones and started taking welding classes and meeting all the employees here, it seemed like every person opened a different door for me. They really helped me get out of my sadness, my depression. Now, I feel like I’m going in the right direction, thanks to everyone because I don’t know if I would have made it without them,” said Arellano.
While learning a new trade through Workforce College, welding instructor, Tracy Warden inspired Arellano to explore even more options. Arellano earned his High School diploma when he lived in Mexico in 1981, but he knew he would need his American High School Equivalency to continue his education here. In one month, Arellano earned his HSE and the Workforce Welding & Heavy Equipment Certificates. He also plans to begin classes in the Air Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration program in August.
“My life has changed 360 degrees,” said Arellano. “In the restaurant business, it seems like there is always equipment in need of repair. I often did some troubleshooting before calling a repairman. I always wanted to do something else, mechanical or build something. Now, it’s become my new career.”
Arellano is currently working at Smith Welding in Ellisville, as part of the crew building a two-story building structure. He also has new goals on his horizon. In fact, with his Certificate in Workforce Welding & Heavy Equipment, along with his High School Equivalency diploma from Jones College, next year, Arellano said he may open another business after he earns his associate degree in Air Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration. For more information about Jones College’s Workforce College, click on the link: https://www.jcjc.edu/workforce.
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’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.
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.”