LONG BEACH, MS (WLOX) - They never got their high school diplomas, yet, they are going to college. This fall, high school dropouts are attending classes at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. It's called the Transitions Academy. On Wednesday, dozens of people toured the academy to see how it can give dropouts a second chance.
The future once looked dim for students like Harry Walker. He dropped out of high school last year and never got his GED.
"I dropped out due to family problems, and I just needed the schooling background," Walker said.
Now, Walker is learning how to weld in the new Transitions Academy at the West Harrison County Center in Long Beach. Students can take GED prep classes and earn 15 hours of college credit at the same time. Once they successfully complete the 16 week program, they can receive an industry certification and go right to work.
"It gives me the safety background that I need, and the GED would help me with my test to get into the Navy," said Walker. "A lot of it is hands-on and some book work. It's really, really easy thanks to all of our teachers."
For students who want to work with children, the academy offers them another choice, Early Childhood Development.
"Going through life without an education was very hard. It was very limiting in fields of work," said Stephanie Parrish.
Parrish quit school during her senior year of high school back in 1988. Today, the single mother of four children is enrolled in the Early Childhood program and is aiming for a career in pediatric nursing.
"Having a better financial future, better respected in the work place and further advancement in your job opportunities, so I'm very excited about that," Parrish said. "This is a blessing of a program, and I'm hoping to utilize it to further my career path."
People in the community got a chance to see how the program works during an open house Wednesday. Among the visitors were career and technology teachers from Ocean Springs High School.
"We have some students that go through our program and realize that maybe high school is not cut out for them. They end up dropping out. If that's the case, they can come do this program," said Grace Knockel, Student Services Coordinator.
While touring the welding building, they bumped into a familiar face, Harry Walker.
"I taught Harry in the sixth grade, years ago," said Knockel. "I'm so proud of him. He's going to do so well, and this is perfect for him."
Classes at the academy are free. Applications are being accepted for the next round of classes in January. To qualify, students must pass a placement test and meet age and Mississippi residency requirements.
If the program is successful, more courses could be added in the future, like Banquet and Catering Services and Business and Office Technology.