Thinking smarter

From left, Nicholas Mitchell, Blake Williams, and (standing) Ray Ferguson and Sarah Mitchell, are among local students enrolled in the DeSoto County Literacy Council's SmartLab program. Photo by Robert Long

HERNANDO — In one corner of the room, banker Alan Sims sat quietly as DeSoto County Literacy Council GED instructor and Director of Marketing John Harrison introduced retired mechanical engineer Stan Bryant to a group of students at the DeSoto County Literacy Council Center in Hernando.

Bryant was able to share his years of design experience with eager students hoping to begin a career someday in the vocational sciences.

On this day, students were schooled on the finer points of information technology and computer-aided design.

It is Harrison's job to help match up local corporate citizens and leaders in the community with today's students in order to forge a working partnership for a brighter, more prosperous tomorrow.

Harrison said students are taught problem-solving skills and are urged to tap into their imaginations and creativity.

According to Harrison, a former real estate manager for Microsoft and past president of the Northwest Mississippi Board of Realtors, helping students discover the pathways to success is one of the most challenging jobs he's ever had.

Harrison said the community plays a part in educating today's workforce.

Northwest Mississippi Community College and other institutions of higher learning are also playing a large role in that effort.

DeSoto County Literacy Council Executive Director Beth Little echoed Harrison.

"This center is unique in that it has a SmartLab," Little said of an interactive computer station/software from Northwest Mississippi Community College. "It's a gem sitting here in the City of Hernando."

Little said several students were introduced to the SmartLab while enrolled at the Center to obtain their GED.

"It's a great way to open up our doors and help students think outside the box," Little said.

The DeSoto County Literacy Council Center is located in the Gale Center adjacent to the Hernando Police Department at 2601 Elm Street. Extended hours at the Literacy Council offer more flexible learning time. For Literacy Council class hours and SmartLab classes, contact the Literacy Council at (662) 429-2354.

The SmartLab allows students to do everything from designing houses to understanding the physics and science behind applied pneumatics in the workplace.

Bryant said today's students have far more advantages than previous generations, although lack of skills, a high drop-out rate in Mississippi and other ills of society often present new challenges.

"I think most students spend their lives just struggling to get through life," said Bryant who holds a Master's degree in Machine Design. "In most cases, it's the smart ones who drop out. They can finish school and have a much better life," Bryant said of utilizing facilities like the DeSoto County Literacy Council's SmartLab.

"We are trying to get them to go on to college and specialize in whatever they want to," Bryant said.

Flexible study times allow students to attend classes to fit their work schedules.

Student Sarah Mitchell chose to study robotics and built a robot.

"I was home-schooled and so I didn't have any test scores to show," Mitchell said. "They told me I needed to get my GED."

Another student, Blake Williams, has aspirations of becoming a diesel mechanic.

Ray Ferguson, another student, is employed in manufacturing. "I'm hoping to learn pneumatics," Ferguson said.

Students work together on projects.

"A major part of the program is teamwork and learning how to work together," said Sharlet Huff, who serves on the Workforce Development Program Development Team at Northwest Mississippi Community College.

Just getting students in the door to get their GED, can unlock keys to a brand new career and direction in life, according to Huff.

"We ask if they are on a certain reading level and they work on a 40-hour lesson plan to get their GED," Huff said.

The DeSoto County Literacy Council offers tutoring for adults who want to increase their basic reading skills.  Every literacy student is given a diagnostic assessment in reading.  This assessment provides valuable information regarding the student's strengths and needs in the four components of reading.

The DeSoto County Literacy Council also provides a General Educational Development (GED) program.  The GED program serves students 18 years or older who have not received a high school diploma.

DCLC provides all necessary materials to prepare students for the GED exam.   The Center also offers computer classes to our students.

All services at DCLC are provided at no cost to students. 

For more information contact the DeSoto Literacy Council at www.desototliteracy.org.

Robert Lee Long: rlong@desototimestribune.com or at 662-429-6397, Ext. 252

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