A success story from the Mississippi River Delta
By Dr. Glen Fenter
Desperation sometimes masks itself in acceptance. Such was the case for Takelia Carter of Marion, Ark. For Carter, the mother of six school-age children in a low paying job, desperation was normative existence. This was her life in Crittenden County, Ark., deep in the Delta where unfortunately one in four families lives well below the poverty level.
Out of the mouths of babes came the description of Carter’s desperation. "My pre-school daughter told me, ‘Mama, when I grow up, I want to be just like you. When you get too old to work at the gas station, I’m going to take over.’ I said, ‘Let’s get you a new goal,’" Carter related. "I realized that if that were the only standard I had set for her, I had to do something about it."
Carter decided in high school that she wanted to be a teacher but didn’t know how to make it happen. Life simply got in the way. So she spent 10 years raising a family and working at paying the bills. "I just kept telling people, ‘I don’t have time for college; I have to work; I have children.’"
When family members challenged her to quit making excuses, she decided to teach them a lesson and called Mid-South Community College (MSCC) in nearby West Memphis, Arkansas. There she learned what MSCC could provide and about an innovative partnership between the community college and a number of universities, which would provide her local access to the teacher education she had wanted for so long. By sharing faculty, curriculum, equipment and best practices to provide a broader range of services at a lower overall cost, the Arkansas Delta Training and Education Consortium (ADTEC) University Center was about to deliver Takelia Carter’s dream.
"When I called Mid-South Community College they were so friendly and encouraging," Carter said. "I was so excited that I didn’t even go to sleep. After an all-night shift, I went to the campus that day." The staff at the college helped Carter enroll in the classes she needed and navigate the financial aid process, taking away her anxieties.
On that first day of classes, Carter experienced some second thoughts. "I was trembling, and my first three days, I was like, ‘I cannot do this; I cannot do this.’ But people told me at MSCC, ‘You’re going to do fine.’ By the end of the week, I thought, ‘I might make it after all.’"
Carter also received assistance from the Career Pathways program which features a nationally-recognized strategy to help low-income adults access continuing education opportunities leading to a degree. The program is funded by numerous grants including the Arkansas Department of Higher Education, Arkansas Association of Two-Year Colleges, and the Department of Workforce Services; it provides financial assistance with transportation and childcare as well as mentoring and counseling.
Despite a 10-year absence from the school, Carter performed well in her classes. When financial problems began to intervene, her dream appeared destined for another setback.
But Carter did not quit.
Through the ADTEC University Center, Carter completed all of her course work at home in Crittenden County earning her associates degree from MSCC and her Bachelor’s degree in Education through Arkansas State University.
When the time came to complete her required student teaching, she was assigned to Richland Elementary, a nationally recognized Blue Ribbon School in West Memphis, Arkansas.
"Thanks to the knowledgeable faculty and staff at MSCC and ASU, I was well prepared in each phase of obtaining both of my degrees. The skills, advice, and guidance I received enabled me to impress the administrators at Richland Elementary."
Then another miraculous twist of fate occurred. When an unanticipated opening occurred at the school, "I was offered a permanent job as a fourth grade teacher."
From gas station attendant to an enviable teaching position at one of the best elementary schools in the region, Carter’s dream was realized in an off-the-charts kind of turnaround.
"Sometimes it just brings tears to my eyes to think about it. I am so proud. The ADTEC program afforded me a degree in education without leaving home," Carter says. "Being able to earn two college degrees, less than ten miles from my home, was the only way this ever could have worked for me."
And her children are equally proud. "I love the fire that they had for me going to college, and now they want to go too," Carter brags.
As for the daughter whose profound description of Carter’s desperation started this dramatic journey? "Now she wants to be a football coach and a teacher, and I’m very happy about her new goal."
Dr. Glen Fenter is President of West Memphis, Ark.-based Mid-South Community College. The Arkansas Delta Training and Education Consortium (ADTEC), a collaboration of community colleges in the Eastern Arkansas Delta region, has been recognized as the nation's No. 1 workforce model by the U.S. Department of Labor and has won numerous other awards for its workforce training.