MAYHEW — Recently, at the age of 39, Matthew Crawford earned his high school equivalency diploma through East Mississippi Community College’s Adult Education Launch Pad. That success boosted his confidence and prompted him to enroll in the Industrial Maintenance Technology program at The Communiversity.
“College was never a thought until I passed the GED,” Crawford said. “That inspired me. I thought, ‘Why not go all the way?’”
Now he is encouraging friends and family members who did not earn a high school diploma to follow suit.
“I just want to motivate anyone I can to follow their dreams and go out there and get it,” Crawford said. “I tell them it is not as hard as they think it is and that they just have to put the time and effort in to get what they want.”
Crawford’s experience is not unique. He is among 656 people last year who received assistance through EMCC’s Adult Education division.
“We offer pretty much any kind of academia skills students would need to complete their high school equivalency or enroll in postsecondary education,” EMCC Director of Adult Education Tshurah Dismuke said.
Among other things, the Launch Pad offers classes that prepare students to: take the GED test or the High School Equivalency Test (HiSET); improve scores on college or workforce training entry exams; or to take the National Career Readiness Certificate -- ACT WorkKeys.
The classes are available at Launch Pad locations at EMCC’s Golden Triangle and Scooba campuses, the EMCC West Point-Clay County Center and Launch Pad East on Military Road in Columbus.
Smart Start training is also available through the Launch Pad and teaches students employability skills such as time management, effective communication and resume creation, among other things.
Qualified students can also take part in the Mississippi Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training, or MIBEST, program, which is intended to provide low-skilled workers with the training needed to transition into careers that offer family-sustaining wages.
Students in MIBEST can enroll in select programs at EMCC that lead to a certificate or associate’s degree in select programs, or they can opt for available noncredit programs, such as Commercial Truck Driving, Manufacturing Skills Basic, Certified Nursing Assistant and Welding Technology, to name a few.
Members of the community who are 18 or older can take the GED and HiSET tests without enrolling in Adult Education classes. Preregistration is required before testing, which can be done online at www.ged.com or www.hiset.ets.org where testing requirements are listed.
On both the Golden Triangle and Scooba campuses, the GED is offered as a computer-based test and the HiSET can be taken on a computer or as a paper test. The West Point-Clay County Center offers paper-based testing only for HiSET.
All Launch Pad classes and study materials are free, but the companies that manage the tests charge a fee. The cost to take the GED is $120, while the fee for taking the HiSET is $85. Students who enroll in Adult Education classes can qualify for testing vouchers to cover the cost.
A common theme for many who enroll in Adult Education classes is a desire to improve their circumstances. Crawford said his son, Zion, 11, provided him the motivation to return to school.
“I just looked up one day and he was growing up so fast,” Crawford said. “I wanted to be a role model for him so he would know it is very important to have an education. I said to myself, ‘I am not going to let this beat me. I am getting a diploma.’”
A native of Houston, Mississippi, Crawford attended Houston High School but was sick a lot during his teenage years and was unable to earn his diploma.
After school he worked on an industrial line for an upholstered furniture production company, with a succession of jobs to follow, including a stint at Walmart and another as a janitor at Tupelo High School.
After marrying in 2008, Crawford and his wife, Vernitta, moved to Starkville, where Crawford landed a job as a cafeteria line cook. After a few years there, he suddenly became ill and was diagnosed with myelodysplasia, a disruption in the production of blood cells that can progress to leukemia.
“It was a rough go for a while,” Crawford said. “I was in and out of the hospital. I had to go to Jackson every week for an IV and chemo treatment and that lasted five or six hours. I did that for two years.”
Five years ago, he underwent a bone marrow transplant. Crawford said he has “up days and down days” but is “way better” than he once was.
Crawford plans to enroll in the HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning) program at EMCC to complement the Industrial Maintenance classes he is now taking.
“Eventually, I would like to start my own HVAC business,” Crawford said. “There is a need for HVAC services in the area where my mom lives and that is something I have always wanted to do.”