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.

Quang Thai

Quang Thai headshot

Achieving Language, Career, and Educational Goals

Submitted by Jane Nguyen-Campo, ESL instructor, Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College
English as a Second Language (ESL) Adult Education at Mississippi Community College

Quang Thai began his ESL (English as a Second Language) classes in October of 2019, intending to master the English language. He achieved his goal through hard work and dedication. In a few short months, Quang reached an ESL level 6 and started on the road to furthering his education.

In the fall of 2020, he plans on studying electrical technology at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. He has also enrolled in High School Equvialency (HSE) classes and is part of the MIBEST program for his training in electrical technology.

“Learning English is not easy,” Quang said while reflecting on his studies, “but it has helped me further my education, pursue my career, and prepare for the future.”

Qi “Ann” Zhang

Qi "Ann" Zhang standing in front of train

Learning English and Gaining Confidence

Submitted by Renata Gil, ESL instructor, Hinds Community College
English as a Second Language (ESL) Adult Education at Mississippi Community College

Qi “Ann” Zhang began her ESL education on January 27, 2020. She attended classes at Hinds Community College with her sights set on mastering the English language. She studied tirelessly and was an active participant in her class discussions.

In mid-March, her courses transitioned to online platforms due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Ann was not deterred from her goals. She continued to work diligently and spent six hours per week practicing and studying from mid-March to late June.

She was also an active member in her Civics English class, which combines language learning and lessons on American culture, and quickly began to see the rewards of her hard work.

“My English has improved greatly,” Ann explained, “And I obtained not only language learning skills, but also learned aspects of American culture. I am more confident because of it.”

Shasta Drummond

Shasta Drummon

Changing the Hand I Was Dealt

Written by Shasta Drummond

From a young age, I’ve had the cards stacked against me. My mother was a prostitute, and my father was a drug addict. By the time I was seven years old, I found myself stuck in what seemed like an endless cycle of moving from foster home to foster home. With many factors continually changing in my life, learning in school was exceptionally difficult.

In tenth grade, I moved in with my mother and her boyfriend, which led to abuse, homelessness, and eventually dropping out of school. Years later, I became pregnant and realized that I wanted my life to change. I was tired of being at the mercy of others and wanted to give my daughter the best life I possibly could.

I left an abusive relationship, moved to Mississippi, and began pursuing my education. When I started the Smart Start program at Northeast Mississippi Community College (NEMCC), I was terrified because of my past experiences in school. That changed, though. Mrs. Letisha Belk was such an encouraging teacher—she took away the fear and helped me feel secure and confident about my education.

Once I completed Smart Start, I enrolled in evening classes at NEMCC. I was nervous about starting the program but found support in Mrs. Courtney Casabella. She encouraged me to finish my exams and push through the testing anxiety I had. I am currently working on finishing my final test, which is in math. Mrs. Courtney has been so compassionate and such a cheerleader.

We have worked together virtually, and soon I will complete my testing and will be enrolled in a medical terminology class. This course will help prepare me for the upcoming fall semester, in which I will be a full-time student attending NEMCC’s nursing program.

It has been a long and trying road, but I have succeeded. My education will allow me to give my daughter the life I never had. I cannot express in words how much this opportunity at Northeast has meant to me.

Dayna Alford

Dayna Alford (002)

More than a High School Equivalency Diploma

When Dayna Alford arrived at the Northeast Mississippi Community College (NMCC) in Iuka, she had one goal—earning her High School Equivalency Diploma (HSE). Like many students entering the program, she was forced to leave high school before graduation due to unforeseen circumstances.

She enrolled in the Smart Start to learn essential skills like leadership and teamwork that would prepare her for success in any career she decided to pursue. Although her initial goal was earning an HSE, she learned of other programs, such as the ACT National Career Readiness Certification and MIBEST. These programs prepare people, like Dayna, to secure meaningful careers with family-sustaining pay.

Dayna’s hard work and dedication led to a recommendation for the MIBEST program by her instructors. MIBEST gave Dayna a jumpstart on college and career success by giving her a chance to complete her HSE while enrolling in college as a part-time student.

Dayna earned her HSE in January 2020 and enrolled as a full-time student at NEMCC for the fall of 2020. In five short months, Dayna earned a Smart Start credential, National Career Readiness Credential: Level Gold, and six hours of college credit. She is well on the road to a bright future.

If you want to learn more about Smart Start, HSE, and ACT NCRC programs in your area, email skillup@mccb.edu.

Dustin Hammond

Photo of Dustin Hammond with Certificate

The Power and Payoff of Perseverance

Throughout most of his school years, Dustin Hammond experienced adversity. He fell behind in his courses and was discouraged after a teacher told him that he would never graduate high school.

When navigating the trials of high school became too much for him to handle, Dustin decided to take a different route. He joined the workforce before finishing the ninth-grade. He found a job, got married, and started a family.

While working and raising five children, Dustin learned the value of hard work and dedication. He began teaching his children the value of education and the importance of staying in school. Dusted decided to lead by example, so at 29 years old, he went back to school.

Dustin enrolled in the Adult Education program at Northeast Mississippi Community College’s Corinth campus. He earned a Smart Start credential that demonstrated that he had the necessary skills to be a successful employee in any industry.

Next, he attended High School Equivalency (HSE) courses that provided him with the stimulating and encouraging environment he needed to obtain his degree. It was hard work. He attended classes at night after working long hours at his manufacturing job. But it paid off. In just five months, with his determination and with the encouragement of his teachers, Dustin earned his diploma.

His diploma opened doors. He now had the opportunity to start a college career or apply for a new job. Most importantly, he set an example for his children.

Dustin proved that no matter the trials and adversities a person battles in life, anything is achievable with hard work and perseverance.

Tyler Rasmussen

Photo of Tyler Tasmussen at Program

Taking Steps to Achieve a Goal

Submitted by Carolyn Williams
South Mississippi Community College Adult Education Director

Tyler Rasmussen’s goal is to serve the country by joining the U.S. Armed Forces.

Tyler took the first step toward his goal when he enrolled in the South Mississippi Community College (SMCC) Adult Education Program in October of 2019. Tyler completed the Smart Start program and received a Smart Start Credential in January of 2020—earning a Gold level in applied math, graphic literacy, and workplace documents. In February of 2020, Tyler received a High School Equivalency Diploma.

He now has the credentials he needs to achieve his goal of joining the military.

Ryan Ryals

Image of Ryan Ryals at Program

Hard work and Persistence Leads to Success

Submitted by Carolyn Williams
South Mississippi Community College Adult Education Director

Ryan Ryals enrolled in the South Mississippi Community College (SMCC) Adult Education Program in July of 2019. By October of that year, he completed the Smart Start program and earned a Smart Start Credential. Ryan received a gold level in graphic literacy and silver levels in applied math and workplace documents. Ryan earned a High School Equivalency diploma in February 2020.

 Ryan is an example of how hard work and persistence lead to success.

Megan Brady

Image of Megan Brady

Perseverance Pays Off

Megan Brady knows the value of perseverance.

She left high school early and began working to provide for her family. However, she never gave up her hope of completing her education.

In 2017, Megan decided that it was time to go back to school to complete her High School Equivalency Diploma. Megan met with Charlie Smart, a transition specialist at Northeast Mississippi Community College (NEMCC), to learn about programs that would give her the support she needed to earn a diploma and jumpstart her career.

With the support of the adult education team at NEMCC, Megan completed the program and earned a High School Equivalency Diploma.

During her time at NEMCC, she learned about the Mississippi Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training (MIBEST) program that would help her gain the skills she needed to be successful in the workplace. Megan enrolled in MIBEST and took on a full schedule of courses, as well as two online classes while holding down a part-time job as an in-home caregiver. But she was determined to complete the requirements to enroll in the LPN and RN programs at NEMCC.

She spent hours juggling school, family, and work duties, but it paid off. She earned a 4.0 GPA that semester, and she was accepted into both the LPN and RN programs at NEMCC.

Although the COVID-19 outbreak forced all NEMCC to deliver classes online, Megan stayed focus on her career goals. She continued her education and today is on the cusp of graduating with an Associate’s Degree in Nursing.

Megan’s story is proof of the rewards of hard work, perseverance, and the possibility to thrive despite adversity.

Rajesh “Raj” Ghimire

Rajesh Ghimire

Drafting and Designing a Successful Future

Rajesh “Raj” Ghimire was a junior in high school when his educational path took a turn.

Due to unforeseen circumstances, Raj left school for a year. When he returned, determined to obtain his diploma, he met with his high school principal and assistant principal to discuss his options. They told him about the adult education program at Northeast Mississippi Community College (NEMCC).

Dedicated to his future, he enrolled at the Booneville campus and began the Smart Start Program in the fall of 2018. After completing Smart Start and earning certifications such as the National Career Readiness Certificate (NCRC), Raj transitioned into the High School Equivalency (HSE) program.

His instructors saw how hardworking, ambitious, and determined he was and encouraged him to go further than an HSE. With the encouragement of his instructors, Raj met with Taylor Johnson, the MIBEST coordinator at NEMCC, to talk about his future.

“He came to us with several educated questions,” according to Taylor. “He knew that he wanted to further his education at NEMCC, but he also knew that he needed to earn his HSE first. We knew that MIBEST was the program for him.”

Raj managed to hold a full-time job while completing the HSE program. He never missed a day of class, maintained a 4.0 GPA, and ultimately obtained his diploma.

Raj decided to major in Drafting and Design and secured an apprenticeship through the Tiger Apprenticeship Program.

“My plan for the future is to receive a degree for Drafting and Design, and because of NEMCC Adult Education and MIBEST, I am on the right path,” Raj says. “I love everything about the MIBEST program. The teachers are so friendly, helpful, and kind. I honestly cannot believe that I have been given this opportunity. I want to continue to work hard and always make my teachers proud of me and my accomplishments.”

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