David Chapman Burress

The Benefits of Perseverance

In August of 2020, sixteen-year-old David Chapman Burress decided to start his college plan early and enrolled in the Adult Education program at Northeast Mississippi Community College (NEMCC).

After beginning the program, David found that the Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act (WIOA) Gateway Youth Program provided an excellent opportunity to acquire work experience. He began taking NEMCC’s Industrial Maintenance classes. The training sessions were long and challenging, but he persevered.

His hard work paid off and, in a few months, he completed his Smart Start course and received his High School Equivalency Diploma— all on the same day.

After completing his Industrial Maintenance courses, David plans to enroll in the Welding Program on the Northeast campus. He is grateful every day that he decided to get an early start to college and is excited about his future.

Shengfang Du

Shengfang Du picture

About two years ago, 80-year-old Chinese student Shengfang Du started attending my ESL class when I was still teaching at Jackson Public Schools. The very first minute we met, we engaged in a very nice conversation and she stated that she wanted to improve her English. She attended every single class and participated intensively. Since she did not have a car, she walked from her apartment to school every day.
However, after the JPS ESL program ended, Sheng was unable to attend classes at Hinds Community College because no transportation was available.

Once the Corona Virus pandemic reached us back in March of 2020, we had no choice but to start teaching online classes from home and this is when Sheng took the advantage and re-joined my class. She has kept an excellent attendance since then.

Her Bio: Sheng moved to MS 10 years ago when she became a US citizen following her dream to be with her son to start a new life in the USA. Sheng had a successful career in China before she retired as a MD and PhD researcher. She worked on research on viral infectious disease vaccination epidemiological investigation, such as Influenza and Polio, and contributed in class every time we talk about health systems, the pandemic, hospitals, etc.

As Sheng states: “Being in class has helped me meet new friends, go grocery shopping without any fears and discuss Biology with my grandson who is a sophomore in high school.”

Note: Sheng’s teacher encouraged her to register to vote. Sheng did and received her Voter Registration Card in the mail and will exercise her right to vote in the November election.

Arvind and Varsha Patel

Arvind & Varsha Citizenship

English is a prominent language spoken in the United States. Being a non-English speaking person, we found communicating with others really difficult. One day, we decided to find ESL classes offered in our town. After we found ESL classes, we decided to attend classes to learn the basics of English. When we told our teacher that we had filled out our citizenship form, she started making us practice the citizenship questions. In order to help us more, she organized one on one interviews. She also made us familiar by making us write the English language. She also made sure that our pronunciation was correct. She made us play games in order to make learning fun. We believe that attending the ESL classes made it easier for us to pass our citizenship test. We are really glad to attend the ESL class. We would encourage others to join the ESL class in their area.

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.”

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.

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.

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