Colby Miller was losing interest in school and his grades reflected it, despite a zeal for all things tech. The same applied to Michael Harris, who yearned to emulate his father’s skills but just couldn’t make it happen in the classroom.
Each might have dropped out of school if not for a new program at Hinds Community College’s Vicksburg-Warren Campus that’s geared to keep students from giving up on their studies.
“In high school, I’d be lucky if I made a D in class, with all the students who are loud, talkative and don’t cooperate with the teacher. So, it’s hard to concentrate,” Miller said. “Here, you’re in classes with actual college students. They’re paying for it and they’re here to learn. And I’m making As, Bs and Cs.”
For Harris, it was test anxiety.
“I’d understand what the lessons were teaching, but when it came time for tests, I’d just get nervous,” he said.
The Gateway to College program targets those in the school system who have dropped out or are at risk of doing so because they have fallen behind in high school credits. Once directed toward the program, often by high school guidance counselors, students age 16-20 are placed in small learning communities and take basic skills classes while dually enrolled at Hinds.
Students entering the program must read on an eighth-grade level and pass Hinds’ placement test for full participation. Classes in reading, math, college skills and other subjects are then aligned for the level at which they would have been taken in a traditional high school setting.
Hinds began the program at the Rankin Campus in fall 2012 as the first Mississippi community college to become a part of the national Gateway to College network. In June 2014, the second full year, the Rankin program graduated 35 students.
“We were able to kick off the Vicksburg Gateway to College program this semester through great support from the Vicksburg Warren School District,” said Vicksburg-Warren Campus Dean Marvin Moak. “The principals and counselors were instrumental in helping us select the first group of Gateway participants. This program gives its students the opportunity to complete their high school education and receive college credit while doing that.”
Students who graduated from the Rankin program last year were able to earn an average of 22 college credits.
Moak says that is a big advantage. “These graduates will be able to seamlessly transition from high school to college. It is our hope that many of them will take advantage of our recently expanded career-technical programs for our campus,” he said.
Miller and Harris, both 19, are two of 28 students enrolled in the program this year, said Angela Davis, resource specialist for the program at the Vicksburg-Warren Campus.
“Students in the program are those where the high school environment just was not cutting it anymore,” Davis said.
Most often recommended are students who have trouble getting started in high school, said Program Director Denetra Taylor.
“We have the whole gamut,” Taylor said. “Right now, we’re looking at students who are maybe 17 and about to repeat the ninth grade for the third time.”
Kaylae Hartley, 18, said her grades have stabilized in the program after a rough start in high school.
“I made all As and Bs in elementary school, but when I got to junior high, I was slipping,” Hartley said.
She learned of the program through her high school counselor.
Harris and Miller say they already have future plans on what they want to do after they finish the Gateway to College program. Harris, also an expectant father, wants to learn the ins and outs of welding once his basic coursework is completed.
“My dad used to work at LeTourneau Technologies, so he’s pretty good at welding,” Harris said. “Last year, I took a welding class, but I just got to the grinding and torch-cutting part. It’s just something I think I could be interested in.”
Miller sees video games in his future, and not just playing them. “I want to go to a technical college for game development,” he said. “I want to create the characters and environments of video games.”
Without the Gateway to College program, their plans might just be pipe dreams.
For information about the program, contact Denetra Taylor at 601. 601.619.6881 for the Vicksburg-Warren Campus or Rebecca Tullos at 601.936.5580 for the Rankin Campus program.
As Mississippi’s largest community college, Hinds Community College is a comprehensive institution offering quality, affordable educational opportunities with more than 170 academic, career and technical programs. With six locations in central Mississippi, Hinds enrolled nearly 12,000 credit students in fall 2014. To learn more, visit www.hindscc.edu or call 1.800.HindsCC.