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VWSD expands career academies with free adult night classes

The Vicksburg Warren School District is leaving behind the confines of kindergarten through 12th grade education and starting the process of educating not only children, but their parents as well.

Through a first of its kind partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Mississippi Department of Human Services, VWSD has expanded its new career academies to parents during free night classes four days a week.

“As far as we know and as far as the U.S. Department of Agriculture knows, this is the first time in the country a K-12 group has partnered with the Department of Human Services,” Lucy Derossette, the VWSD’s Director of Innovations, said.

The Education to Employment program, or E2E, was officially announced by VWSD and USDA in June and the first classes started Oct. 12. The program is open to anyone over the age of 16, who is receiving SNAP benefits though the state of Mississippi and has a child enrolled in VWSD. Applications must be filed through DHS who makes the final approval.

Currently there are 16 moms enrolled in the course.

“It was an opportunity to further my education and it offered assistance in doing so,” Johnna Henson, a mother of four, who is taking the course said. “It also would help in finding a job. I wanted to get away from welfare and actually live independent for my children and myself and build a brighter future.”

The program lasts 15-months and follows much of the same track as the academy programs at the high schools. The parents are currently taking a keystone class, which will help identify careers they are interested in. They will then be split into the same three academies as high school students — ACME (Architecture, construction, mechatronics and engineering), CAB (Communications, arts and business) and HHS (Health and human services).

The parents will also have the ability to participate in job shadowing and up to 480 paid internship hours through the Win Job Center. Derossette said by the time the course is complete the goal is for each parent to either be on track to finish his/her GED or enrolled in Hinds or Alcorn.

“We know that its easier for parents to parent when they’re not under the financial stresses brought about by poverty or working two or three jobs,” Derossette said “We feel like it is a two generational approach to improving our schools. By improving the parents’ lives, we improve the children’s lives.”

The program has been in effect for less than a month, but the parents involved said the results have already been life changing.

“This is dramatic to my life already,” Kimberly Carson, a mother of two, said. “Not that it is going to be, but it is already. It keeps me motivated and positive and lets me know I can do it.

“It gives us resources. They help you out with any problem you’re having. Anything you think might happen they have a solution for it already.”

After spending 20 years feeling “stuck” in the welfare system, Henson said she finally feels like she is taking steps to improve her and her children’s lives and in just the past month she has already found a job working as a VWSD cafeteria worker.

“I have been in the system on food stamps for 20 years,” Henson said. “I got stuck. Having four children, I couldn’t really afford to go to school and afford someone to watch the kids. This was the perfect opportunity. My kids are just overjoyed. They can’t believe mom is going to school.

“I spent 20 years, had not finished school, just raising children and doing odds and ends jobs. Financially it wasn’t even worth me doing with the four children. It (E2E) boosted my confidence and gave me hope. Two years from now, I can’t wait to see where I’m at.”

Through the keystone course, Henson has determined she wants to pursue a career working to help people either through human resources, working in youth court, as a school counselor or something similar.

“I would like to be well on my way to pursing a degree or at least a technical certificate of completion or close to it by then,” Henson said of her goal for the time the program ends. “Hopefully some internships. I believe that begins sometime next year. I can actually start job shadowing for something I’m called to do.”

Carson has a degree in Montessori education, but said her goal is to pursue a career in occupational therapy.

“I tried to get back in school and I had obstacles. It kind of fell in my lap and I was like yeah, I want to go back to school,” Carson said. “I will be in college. I will be well on my way to degree in occupational therapy. I’ve always known that’s what I want to do.”

The course meets Monday through Thursday from 5-8 p.m. at Warren Central Junior High. Parents who are interested in enrolling can call Cleopatra Erves at the VWSD main office at 601-631-3883 ex 154.