Christy Sanders

Christy Sanders seeks to inspire

The first class Christy Sanders’ attended in her adult education program changed her life. Before attending her class, Sanders was hesitant and a little embarrassed about enrolling in the program.

“I was nervous. I was embarrassed. I was so many things,” Sanders says reflecting on the moments before her course, “But I just said, ‘Hey, I’m going.’”

Sanders says that her embarrassment stemmed from “just going back to school” and feeling older than her classmates. But that changed.

Sanders was comforted by “seeing people I hadn’t seen for a while” in that pivotal first class.  “We ended up coming back to school together,” Sanders says.

Her newfound comfort and support, combined with the encouraging staff at Northeast Mississippi Community College (NMCC) helped motivate her to continue her education.

“[The program] gave me a few good teachers,” Sanders says of Cole and her colleagues. “Y’all believed in us. You pushed us. Even when I said, ‘I can’t do this’, y’all would come back and say, ‘Yes, you can do this.’ Y’all give us all of you. I mean, look at me! So I think y’all have done a great job.”

Sanders’ formal education took a turn in high school. She withdrew from her coursework in the ninth grade to get a head start on her career. She became a Certified Nurse Assistant (CNA) at a local nursing home and worked there for 14 years.

“I just got off track,” Sanders says.

Sanders soon prioritized furthering her education and began working on her high-school-equivalency diploma. She attended night classes after working all day. But her motivation would not be deterred. She even helped motivate her fellow classmates.

“Christy was such a determined student,” Sanders’ instructor, Shanna Cole, says, “She worked very hard and set high expectations for herself. She was so encouraging to her fellow classmates and always pushed them to give their best.”

After years of hard work, Sanders finally earned her diploma. She then went on to pursue a degree in social work. Currently, Sanders is taking English Composition and College Algebra at Northeast and will enroll full-time this fall.

She has already seen a financial difference from obtaining her diploma. “I was working full-time; now I’m working part-time, and I might have to do that for a while,” she says. “Right now, I can tell a financial difference, but I just say, ‘It’ll get greater later.’”

Sanders is driven by helping others, and although she acknowledges the changes, she may have to make transitioning into her new career, she embraces the challenge.

“Once you get to what you are striving for, all the sacrifices you made will be well worth it,” she says, summing up her approach. “It’s going to be stressful, going from a CNA to a social worker, but at the same time, it’s going to be worth it to face the challenges and build my career. I want to give back in some form, and just be a positive influence in someone else’s life besides my own.”

“In my family,” she goes on, “we have a lot of people who work in the medical field. As a child, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do; when I started working as a CNA, it gave me a vision. Seeing people with no voice, who may or may not have anyone visit them, as a social worker, that’s what you’re supposed to be there for: to give.”

Sanders has this to say to anyone considering furthering their education:

“Go for it. You can do it. I did it. You can do it, too.”

Jalisia Estes

Finding the Keys to Success

Jalisa Estes drove by the adult education classroom at Northeast Mississippi Community College (NMCC) for 13 years before she made the decision to continue her education by working on her high-school-equivalency diploma.

There were reasons she had put it off for so long: kids, work, life. But underneath it all was a prevailing negative belief:

“I just didn’t see myself as smart,” she says.

Estes withdrew from high school at the age of seventeen due to unforeseen circumstances and to avoid being held back another year. She also had low self-esteem and grappled with a lack of motivation.

“I just wasn’t motivated,” she says. “My best courses were English and art. Anything outside of that, I was just bored with it.”

But once Estes decided she wanted to obtain her diploma, she did so quickly.

“My teachers kept me motivated. They inspired me to go beyond what I thought I was capable of.”

After graduating, Estes spoke with College and Career Navigator, Charlie Smart, for guidance on her next steps.

“She liked technology,” says Smart. “She was working as an online administrator for three different companies, building websites and managing their social media accounts. These were jobs she just went for, and she got them—without a high-school diploma. She taught herself to code, for goodness sake! The answer was obvious.”

Smart told her about the two-year degree in Information Systems Technology at Northeast, which offers a pathway in iOS app development.

“I had taught myself a lot for website development,” Estes says. “App development seemed like the next step.”

Cutting-edge work such as app development and virtual reality is not without its difficulties—such as learning different coding languages. How did she deal with such challenges?

“Practice,” Estes says, “If you don’t practice it, you’re never going to learn it. I’m just constantly trying to put more into my brain.”

Estes feels as if she has found the perfect path for herself.

“Everything in that program is a puzzle, and I love puzzles!” she says.

And as an added bonus, her newfound career path and skill set have led her to more profits and financial freedoms.

“I have never been on a vacation. My husband has never been on a vacation,” Estes says. “We try to do things for our children that we weren’t able to do as kids, but it’s hard. That’s going to change. The pay for the work I’m going to be doing is almost four times our current household income. I’m going to be able to enjoy my time with my family and do things with my children that I never got to do growing up.”

Estes says her success has four elements.

“Family, love, respect, knowledge–those are the keys to success,” she says.

Estes is living proof that with the right motivations, support, and mindset, students can accomplish more than they ever thought possible. And make life better—for themselves and their families.

Shareka Judon

An NEMCC Adult Education student perseveres—for all the right reasons.

Shareka Judon was determined to complete her high-school-equivalency diploma to help support her four children.

“Working full-time–and still being a mother.” This is how she describes the challenges she faced in completing her diploma through Northeast Mississippi Community College.

How was she able to overcome these challenges?

“I just put my mind to it,” she says. “There were a lot of late nights, falling asleep with the book in my hand. But I knew I had four babies at home watching me. Especially my girls who were older. They could understand.”

What they understood was, in part, that Shareka—who withdrew from high school in the 11th grade after learning she was pregnant with her oldest daughter—was struggling. They were watching her juggle a couple of important and all-consuming responsibilities.

First, there was the responsibility of motherhood. Shareka smiles more than most people, especially when discussing her children. While she is being interviewed, motherhood is the thing she mentions second-most often.

And not just being there for her kids, as any mother does. But caring for them, in ways most of us don’t have to worry about. That oldest daughter has had four open-heart surgeries, beginning at two months old. The youngest child, her son, is severely autistic. Shareka was unable to attend class in the first few weeks, due to frequent trips to LeBonheur Children’s Hospital. All the while, Shareka managed a full-time job.

Shareka pursued her diploma with Northeast while working full-time as an assistant manager in a retail store. Not long after she earned her diploma, she had to leave her job. Her son had started school, which proved to be overwhelming for him.

“There were lots of days when he went to school and had a meltdown, and I had to go get him,” she says. Work became impossible.

“She had some real challenges juggling everything,” one of her teachers, Shawn Davis, concurs. “She went back and forth from day class to night class. I know it was hard for her.”

Again, motherhood is the thing she mentions second-most often while being interviewed. The thing she mentions most often is not giving up. And that’s what her children really noticed, what they really understood.

“I didn’t want them to say, ‘Well, mama didn’t stay in school, so we don’t care if we do,’” she says. “I wanted to be a good example for them, to let them know to never give up. Keep trying. Success means putting your mind to it, being determined about it, and completing what you started.”

“I see myself (in the future) in a doctor’s office, being successful at something I really love to do.” She wants to learn more about clinical care, she says, “for my daughter and my son. I want to know what I can do to help them.” And for the patients and their families, who will no doubt benefit from her compassion, borne of her own experiences. She has been there. She still is.

Shareka will begin working toward her degree this summer and is determined to obtain her degree.

“I think,” Davis says, “she’ll be able to do whatever she puts her mind to.” And the lives of her patients will be much richer for it.

Gage Johnson

Discipline as the Key to Success

Gage Johnson is busy. His day starts at 4 in the morning. He gets up to teach CrossFit and Boot Camp classes at his gym, before speeding off to attend his college classes. After class, he goes to work and doesn’t make it home until 9 in the evening. It’s usually around midnight when he finally gets to lie down. And the next day, his routine starts all over again. And he’s only 17.

“I’ve been working out consistently since I was 12,” Johnson said. “My parents always taught me that if you want to get stuff done, you’ve just got to do it and be disciplined with it. I knew if I were lazy, it would never happen.”

Born in Albion, IN, Gage moved around with his family, first to Evansville, IN, then Texas, then to Corinth, MS, at age 15. At age 16, he enrolled in Northeast Mississippi Community College’s Adult Education program. Having been homeschooled since 4th grade, he had developed a knack for self-reliance which served him well in the program.

He also had a knack for achievement had was accepted into the Gateway and MIBEST training programs, earned a platinum score on the Career Readiness Certificate (the highest possible score), and obtained high scores on his high-school-equivalency exam.

“He was always a top-notch student in my class,” Deanne Droke, Gateway Career Specialist and Smart Start Instructor, said. “He is the most respectful and mature 16-year-old I have ever had in my class, or met, for that matter.”

How did he achieve so much?

“I didn’t want to get the minimum,” Gage said of his achievements. “I wanted to do better because I knew I could. Sometimes your school work gets boring, but you know you have to get it done to finish what you want to achieve. If there’s something you don’t want to do [to succeed], you say, ‘Well, I have to do this if I want to achieve my goal.’”

Gage found NEMCC’s program to be a good complement to his intense internal motivation.

“If I didn’t have them [the adult ed staff] I wouldn’t have known what I was supposed to do. Every time I had a question, it got answered. If I asked for help, I got it.”

So, what’s next for Gage?

Gage plans on completing his college degree in Criminal Justice, then pursuing a career in law enforcement, first with the highway patrol, then federal law enforcement. He doesn’t want to stop achieving.

“I think accomplishing your goals is (the definition of) success.” Gage says, “It’s important when you finish a big goal to set another one. You don’t want to just stay in the same spot.”

Some students merely learn. Students such as Gage also teach by setting an inspiring example for others, and by achieving and accomplishing goals, over and over again.

Reanna Stasney

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.

Mariano Arellano

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.

Kati Morgan

Focused on Success

Kati Morgan enrolled in NEMCC’s Adult Education program in 2019 after dropping out of high school a few years earlier due to unforeseen circumstances. In October 2019, she earned her high-school-equivalency diploma. College and Career Navigator Charlie Smart worked to help her enroll in college for the following semester, but it didn’t work out. “She was working both a full-time and a part-time job, in addition to being a single mother, and she just didn’t have the time,” Smart said. “I always stress to students the importance of training as a way to a better life, but Kati had two jobs and two kids. She wanted to get started with college, she understood the importance and was excited about it, but in the end, she just had to wait.” A couple of months later, a phone call gave Smart the opening he needed. “I called her about a completely different matter, and she mentioned that she thought she was ready to enroll for the fall semester. Her part-time job had become her full-time job, and she had left the other job, so it seemed like the perfect time to enroll and work toward her goal of creating a better life for her and her family by going to college. She felt that maybe the time was right.” After meeting with Smart to complete the enrollment steps, Morgan was introduced to Taylor Johnson, MIBEST program coordinator. “Kati is such a great student,” said Johnson. “She wanted to go to college, but still had a few doubts as she had never been enrolled in college. We discussed the MIBEST program and the student support that was offered through the program.” “Although she had the extra time to enroll in classes,” Johnson continues, “she was worried that she would overwhelm herself by taking on too much. She said that the MIBEST program seemed perfect for her as she took the next step in achieving her dream. When I asked her what she wanted to be doing in 5 years, she mentioned going back and furthering her education even more. She is very driven. We are lucky to have her as a student.” The week before classes started, Kati began to second guess herself again. She felt that the classes might be too much, and would interfere with her work. “I asked her to meet with me and scheduled a Zoom meeting with her advisor at NEMCC,” Johnson said. “She was considering taking seated and online courses, but she was unsure of how to do this. She was almost in tears before we met with her advisor. She was discouraged, but I explained to her that we are all in this together. We discussed the team-teaching aspect of MIBEST and that she would have full access to the MIBEST study hall. We met with her advisor, discussed the schedule changes, and the opportunity to take most of her classes through hybrid courses.” Morgan felt like a weight was lifted from her shoulders. She was excited to begin the fall semester and knew that with the help from the MIBEST program, she would succeed. “Taylor and Charlie have given me a lot of guidance, and the MIBEST program gives me the support I need,” Morgan said. “They are the only reason I am in college today. Without them, I would have given up and never pursued it. Getting my diploma helped give me the courage to go to college. I am determined to succeed.” Kati is now in her fourth week of classes at NEMCC and is doing very well. By enrolling in the MIBEST program, she has received team-teaching in her classes and is receiving weekly transportation assistance that makes the drive to campus a little easier. She is on track to graduate in May 2022 with an Associate of Applied Science in Information Systems Technology-Cyber Defense. Having overcome so many obstacles to accomplish so much, Kati now feels that enrolling in the adult education program and MIBEST has helped her beyond just earning her high-school-equivalency diploma. She had this to say: “Not only has NEMCC Adult Education helped me to earn my diploma and gain confidence in my educational journey,” she says, “but they have also helped me give my children the life they deserve!”

Robin Eaton

Turning Loss Into Learning

In the last three years, Robin Eaton has lost three people close to her: her mother and father, as well as her grandfather, who helped raise her. From this heartbreaking experience, she started a new life—one they would be thrilled to see.

“They’d be proud of the fact that I’m not just constantly sad and grieving,” she says. “Of course, everybody grieves, but they’d be glad to know that I learned a lot and took some good things from the bad.”

This extraordinary mindset springs from Robin’s commitment to learning from everything—even tragedy. “It’s sad that they’re gone, and it’s hard without them, but I learned a lot through those experiences. It really opened my eyes to see that life is short, and I want to be there to help people while I’m here.”

All three family members ended up requiring hospice care, with Robin helping to care for each of them in the end. She felt able to endure such difficulty, ironically, in part because of the encouragement of one of those she cared for.

“My grandfather always wanted me to be in healthcare. He thought that I had the personality for it. He had a lot of health issues, so he went back and forth to the doctor a lot, and some of his favorite people were nurses and patient care techs. He always thought that they were the nicest and the best people.”

Her formal education had ended years ago, in 8th grade of a homeschool program. Her grandmother had helped her through it as best she could, but, lacking educational training, could help her no further. Robin wound up in fast food, working her way up to management. She liked it, especially the interaction with customers, but felt more and more that her grandfather was right. She knew what she had to do: take the first step towards a high-school-equivalency diploma.

It was a difficult challenge. More than 15 years had passed since she had done any formal study. Still she enrolled in Northeast Mississippi Community College’s Adult Education program.

As her teacher at the time, Courtney Casabella, remembers it, “Robin walked into my classroom during lunch one day and told me she was ready to change her life. She told me that for various reasons she didn’t have her diploma and had been told by others it wasn’t worth it and she couldn’t achieve it. She was motivated but very unsure of herself.”

 “I was afraid of failure,” Robin says. “I have 4 kids, and I was afraid of them seeing me fail.” Still she tried, and succeeded, thanks in large part to her instructor. “She pushed me and just kept telling me to never give up,” she says of Casabella. “I really don’t think I could have done it without her.”

Underneath the uncertainty, Casabella recalls, Robin still had a solid foundation, in that “she was ready to take back her life after so much heartbreak in her past. She was ready to break free and take control. It was inspiring.”

What happened next was a transformation, or perhaps an unfolding of what was already there. “Not only did I get to witness Robin reach the milestone of getting her diploma,” says Casabella, “but what was most impressive to me was her grit and mindset shift. She’s highly motivated by her children and being an example for them, and it was so exciting to celebrate with her at each test passed.”

As Robin’s confidence grew, so did her understanding of what it took to accomplish her goals. “I’ve learned that you’re going to have to fail to succeed,” she says, advice she now offers to others. “They’re going to fail along the way, but that’s part of success. Don’t be afraid of failure.”

After completing her diploma, Robin continued moving forward: leaving her fast-food job, finding clinical work at a local hospital, completing Northeast’s EMT training program.

Along with her children and the encouraging words of her late grandfather and her teacher, Robin draws on another, albeit unlikely, source for her strength.  “I am used to chaos, and I work well with chaos,” she says, a trait that served her well during her emergency-management training. She recalls an exercise, a manual blood-pressure check, where she and her classmates were told that there would be lots of distractions when they tried to carry out the same task in the back of an ambulance. “At home, I was practicing on my husband, and my kids were running around, screaming, getting into everything. I feel like that’s how my life is, chaotic, but I can work through it.”

By embracing uncertainty, Robin has built resilience in her life. She has come to understand that the only way to learn is to take life as it comes, work with it, taking from it what she can. From dealing with death and loss to raising children, to checking vital signs in a whirlwind of chaos, she embraces life—all of it—creating one success after another.

 “I can’t wait,” says Casabella, “to see all she does in the future.”

Adoniyya Edwards

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

Beth Frutal

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.

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