MGCCC’s adult education program helps students prepare for a better future
Looking into a typical classroom at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, you might expect to see students in their late teens to early 20s listening to instructors or reading in college-level textbooks. And while that represents the majority of students on campus, there is also a wide variety of other learners – from high school students taking college classes through Collegiate Academy or a dual-enrollment program to senior adults taking classes as part of the Lifelong Learning Institute.
The largest group of students, other than traditional college students, however, is those involved in Adult Education programs. These individuals –ranging in age from 18 to 80– are preparing to get their high school equivalency and train in college-level skills that will prepare them for a career. The program also provides participants with job-ready skills that are recognized and sought by industry. By the end of the program, students can walk away with their National Career Readiness Certificate and the Mississippi Smart Start Credential along with a high school equivalency and college credit.
Students like Blaine White of St. Martin recognize how much better their careers and lives could be with a high school diploma. White, at the age of 36, has had a successful career as a truck driver. “I make decent money now, but I stay on the road all the time,” he said. “I want to have a career, something I truly love and one that will allow me to spend more time with my family.”
White dropped out in tenth grade because of academic problems and issues with his high school principal. “I was a bit of a cut-up, and I learned things a little slower. It just takes me more time to catch on to some things,” he said.
Now, driven to improve his lot in life, he is taking part in the MIBEST program, which allows him to take classes that will prepare him for his high school equivalency exam while also taking college-level courses. He is in the pre-apprenticeship training program that guarantees him an interview for the Ingalls Apprenticeship Program upon successful completion of his training. He also gains employability skills and his NCCER Core classes.
“Now that I’m back in school, I have my priorities straight. I wish I could go back and tell that 16-year-old me what I know now about how life works,” he said. “Education is just very, very important for success.”
Instructor Ronnie Penton is pleased with White’s success in the program. “He is hardworking, always on time and has never missed a day of class,” Penton said. “That says a lot about his dedication to complete, and it says a lot to future employers about what kind of worker he will be.”
Penton team-teaches classes with an Adult Education instructor on hand and power tools, general safety, construction math, communication skills, basic employment skills, welding symbols, and blueprint reading. Penton also teaches students in the welding lab, where they gain hands-on experience.
“As a team, my co-teacher and I prepare our students for not only completing their high school equivalency exam, we also help them complete the college-level courses they need to get a job. Team teaching works because some students just need more guidance and some need more time to catch on to concepts. Between the two of us, we can get them where they need to go.”
Cassandra Palmer, who co-teaches with Penton, said helping students learn construction math and blueprint reading is a challenge. “These are not what I usually teach, but it is rewarding because my class gets to see why the skills we teach as part of the basic subjects –reading and math– are important. They need them for their future careers, and that is made quite clear to them since Ronnie and I work hand in hand.”
Ana Ortiz, 23, of Vancleave, recently started classes through the MIBEST program, preparing for her high school equivalency, and at the college level, taking classes in Human Services. “I was pregnant at 17 when I dropped out of school,” she said. “I now have three children. They are 6, 2 and 1, so I’ve been a full-time mother. Now that my children are getting bigger, my husband and I decided this was a good time for me to go back to school. It was something I had promised my dad I would do.”
Ana wants to be a nurse because of the kind of care she saw her dad receive when he had heart surgery. “I remember thinking that the nurses were just not as nice as they could have been, and I just knew immediately that I wanted to become a nurse and make a difference. I wanted to treat people with the respect and get the care that I didn’t see my dad receive.” Her father died three years ago.
She said that she is thrilled that her children get to see her going to school. “I tell my daughter in the morning that I’m going to school just like she is,” she said. “I want her to see that education is important because I want her and all of my children to stay in school. I am just thrilled with the opportunities that I have here.”
Hannah Fuller, 34, of Escatawpa, found out about the MIBEST program when she visited the college to enroll in Adult Education courses. “I have been a stay-at-home mom and wanted to complete my education and find a job. When they told me about what I could do –coming to take high school review and college classes at the same time– I was very excited.”
Hannah is taking welding classes along with her high school equivalency program. “I would love to continue in college after getting my diploma,” she said. “I’d love to continue taking welding classes but add auto mechanics as well. I’ve always liked working on cars, and if I can combine welding and mechanics in my future career, well, that’s perfect for me.”
Hannah said the best thing about the program, which she has been in for over a month, is that she gets great support from her instructors and other personnel in the department. “The people here really care about the students. They want us to succeed and are willing to go the extra mile to see that we do. It is scary to come back to school after all of this time. It was very intimidating for me, but they have really put me at ease and helped me do well.”
Programs like MIBEST are vitally important. With 14 percent of the state’s adult population lacking a high school diploma, Mississippi suffers significant economic setbacks. When students drop out, they are six times more likely to end up in prison, three times more likely to be unemployed and earn roughly $1 million less than high school graduates during their lifetime. Furthermore, out-of-school, out-of-work individuals will collectively cost Americans about $1.6 trillion in increased social-service costs, lost earnings and taxes over the course of their lifetimes.
The specialized program addresses the problems that public high schools often cannot. They provide these students the additional support academically, socially and emotionally they need to succeed.
“When you are faced with the daunting task of returning to school of your own volition after years have passed, many people almost don’t want to try,” said Brandi Tisbury, MIBEST navigator for the college’s program. “Our team wants to help them deal with the fear or anxiety, the financial difficulties of attending school and whatever else they have going on. We are their cheerleaders, giving them the encouragement they need to make it over the mountain. We offer them guidance as they find their way toward a successful career.”
For more information on the Adult Education and MIBEST programs at MGCCC, call 228.896.2512.