JONES COUNTY, MS (WDAM) - The following is a news release from Jones County Junior College
The 195 graduates of Jones County Junior College's High School Equivalency (HSE) program have the distinction of being one of three of the largest classes to date and the first graduates to earn their HSE with the state's revised HSE curriculum. Last July, the state approved two new HSE tests, the HiSET and the Test of Adult Secondary Completion or TASC in addition to the widely recognized GED test. All three tests lead to earning a High School Equivalency diploma however, the new and revised tests are more rigorous giving graduates an extra reason to celebrate completing the program.
"Our task is to help people, whatever their circumstance, to improve their basic skills and to help people who need a high school equivalency. This ceremony is not an ending point. Instead, it is a benchmark, a time to reflect and then move on to college or the workplace," said Adult Basic Education Director, Caleb Smith.
Many of the graduates have plans to continue their education at Jones Junior College, like Greene County Scholarship recipient, Jacob Hillman of Leakesville, who has already earned 23 college credits. Others, like siblings, John and Matelyn Musgrove of Soso, who were home schooled said they are ready to pursue their career goals.
"I hope to be a JAG for the Air Force, maybe a pilot. Either way, I can't join the Air Force without a high school diploma so I'm ready to enlist now," said 17-year-old, Matelyn Musgrove.
While her 19-year-old brother, John has been working as a disc jockey for a Bay Springs radio station, he can now continue his education at Holmes Community College.
"I want to be a funeral director," said the elder Musgrove. "However, I wasn't sure I'd make it to this day because of math. The teachers at JCJC were like family and I'm more confident now."
Some graduates were eligible to begin their careers before earning their high school diplomas through the Mississippi Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training (MIBEST) component of the Adult Basic Education program at JCJC. The twenty-four graduating students of the MIBEST program earned their HSE as well as technical skills and certificates in six programs offered through MIBEST: Health Care Assistant, Welding, Business Office Technology, Commercial Truck Driving, Commercial and Residential Maintenance and Health Care Data Technology.
MIBEST Director, Wendy Evans said, "Over the last year-and-a-half, JCJC students have earned more than 220 nationally recognized credentials such as Smart Start, CORE, OSHA and CPR certificates. These students have more than 12,000 workforce hours and over 750 college credit hours. Sixteen students have career certificates and five are earning technical certificates. The goal the state gave us when we started the program was to enroll only 25 students per year and we've exceeded that by enrolling 71 students."
Achieving educational goals is not easy for everyone, especially when obstacles become overwhelming. Graduation keynote speaker and Pine Belt Mental Health Resources counselor, Dwan Cole-Bridges can relate to many of the graduates. Her early educational years were filled with barriers and opposition which lead her to drop out of high school. She struggled to succeed with low paying jobs which ultimately motivated her to enroll in GED classes to improve her quality of life. While earning her GED from Copiah-Lincoln Community College in 1989, the Prentiss resident shared one of her best decisions and one of the proudest moments in her life was to earn her GED.
"I'm grateful for the opportunity to be here today to celebrate your accomplishment in graduating from the High School Equivalency program. It is such a joyful occasion! Jesse Jackson said, 'If my eye can see it, and my heart can believe it, I know I can achieve it," shared Cole-Bridges. She explained, "After dropping out of school in ninth grade and having a baby, 10 years passed before I thought about going back to school to get my GED. I stood on the job for eight hours a day and struggled. I knew there had to be a better way to live!" said Cole-Bridges.
Heidelberg's Hope Wheaton waited more than 20 years before returning to school. She watched three children graduate from high school before she decided it was time to take care of herself.
"It was a little intimidating coming back at 43 because I haven't been in school for 20 years!" said Wheaton. "I passed the first time taking each test. I was surprised! Now, I'm determined to get my Business Office Technology degree at JCJC because I want my children to be proud of me."
Annette Turner, a 54-year-old grandmother, and mother of three children from Magee said she was determined to get her high school diploma when her youngest graduated from Magee High School in May. She's battled cancer, worked and thought she had her high school diploma but discovered the school was not accredited.
"I wanted to surprise my kids because they didn't know I was taking classes to earn my high school diploma," said Turner. "However, one of my kids saw a letter from JCJC and got suspicious so I had to tell them before I actually got my diploma."
Besides diplomas, eight students representing each of the eight counties in the district earned scholarships for achieving the highest average score on their tests. The Clarke County scholarship was awarded to Jason Castle of Quitman. Gracie McNair of Collins earned the Covington County scholarship. Jacob Hillman is the Greene County recipient. The Jasper County scholarship was awarded to Austin Blackledge. Richton's Catlien Howell received the Perry County Scholarship. Smith County's scholarship went to Dylan Hamilton. Waynesboro's Haley O'Neal was the Wayne County recipient and Clara Bankson was the Jones County recipient and the recipient of the JCJC Foundation Scholarship for having the overall highest average score.
"I couldn't believe I won both scholarships!" said Bankson whose career plans include earning horticulture associates of arts degree. "I want to have an eco-friendly landscaping business and do some gardening."
The keynote speaker encouraged graduates to continue to strive for more. Despite her speech impediment, Cole-Bridges shared she is facing her fears by giving her first public speech at JCJC. She explained once she believed she could achieve her dream, she gained more confidence on her four-year journey to earning the first of many diplomas.
"My GED opened doors of opportunity for me and it will do the same for you," said Cole-Bridges who also warned JCJC graduates to hold onto their dreams. "Don't look back. Don't lose your dream. I believed in my ability to accomplish more. I continue to strive for more. I continue to read books and I want to encourage you to do the same. Raise the bar and continue your educational journey. Life is full of disappointments, setbacks, road blocks and the fear of the unknown. But, you must face your fears. I'm standing here facing my fears. I was not going to allow a handicap to hold me back. My journey was full of speed bumps, fear, tears, setbacks from working long hours and people telling me I was not going to be successful. Push on!"
The guidance counselor earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology in 2000 from William Carey University and her Masters of Science in Guidance Counseling in 2005 from Jackson State University. Cole-Bridges is an Elderly Services Coordinator in McComb and she works as an alcohol and drug counselor at the Metro Counseling Center, Inc., in Jackson.
For more information about JCJC's Adult Basic Education programs including the High School Equivalency program, contact Jennifer Hughes by 601-477-3287 or email@example.com