Desoto County News

Career coaches set students on the best path

Photo: Seven of the eight career coaches in DeSoto County Schools. From left, Robin Hennessee (Horn Lake), Jamie Moffitt (Hernando), Laurie Waring (Lewisburg), Avery Grace Basil (DeSoto Central), Varina Hopper (Center Hill), Jacob Vogelsang (Lake Cormorant), and Chip Gresham (Olive Branch). Not pictured is Michelle Everson (Southaven). 

There are eight new additions to high schools in DeSoto County and each one of them has a mission to ensure graduating students in DeSoto County Schools (DCS) have a plan in place on what they want to do in the next stage of their life after graduation.

They are called “career coaches” and there is one assigned to each high school in the county. 

Largely due to the efforts of state Sens. Dr. David Parker (R-Olive Branch) and Donnie Bell (R-Fulton) AccelerateMS received $8 million in ARPA COVID-19 funds to start the Career Coach program at schools in the state. 

In his recent budget recommendations, Gov. Tate Reeves said he would like the $8 million to be increased to $16 million from the general fund.  

“I propose investing $16 million in general funds to double the number of career coaches from approximately 80 to 160,” said Reeves. “This will help achieve the goal of placing at least one career coach in every school district across the state. These coaches will especially be directed toward low income areas, helping to inspire young Mississippians with the abundance of pathways available for fulfilling careers.”

Accelerate MS Ecosystem Coordinator Suzy Bowman of New Albany met with the DeSoto County career coaches recently and said it is important the coaches are able to fill the need as they see the need.

“They don’t follow the MDE curriculum, nothing like that, so they literally get to come into their buildings and build off their program space based on their student needs,” Bowman said. “That can be college, careers, military, or even help them become entrepreneurs.” 

Bowman said the program mirrors a similar one that was started with the Toyota Wellspring Fund of the CREATE Foundation in northeast Mississippi. In that program, 12 career coaches in 14 schools of Pontotoc, Union, and Lee counties work with sophomore students, who receive opportunities ranging from aptitude assessments or internships. She said the $5.8 million of the ARPA funds were awarded to north Mississippi and that allowed DeSoto County to benefit with coaches in each high school.  

“We’re trying to connect students who are looking for jobs or internships and maybe not ready to go the college path,” said Lewisburg career coach Laurie Waring. “There are so many great industries in DeSoto County and we’re trying to be that connection from the student to the industries because there’s a lack of connection there. All these industries have these jobs for students or for people who want to work but they don’t know how to get the students into industry.”

Varina Hopper of Center Hill has seen both sides of the business-education spectrum and that gives her a perspective in working with her students.  

“I have seen the need from these students over the years working in DeSoto County,” Hopper said. “So many students have come to me asking for advice on what they should do with their careers, where they should go to school and why they should do this, or how they go about doing the different avenues in their life. They get bombarded with many different people telling them what to do and what not to do so we’re able to give them a clear path and to show them the many possibilities.”

Waring added she hears from students who have graduated who tell her they wished the program was available when they were in high school.  

“Getting them into every high school in DeSoto County is going to be a great way to connect those students, especially the ones who don’t have a college path, or the parents at home to help guide them to that.”

The career coaches all expressed the interest in learning how each student they work with follows their path once they leave high school and discover success through what they learned working with the career coach program.

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