By: Jessica Bays
For people who may not know about the J.L. King Center, it is considered a valuable resource and one of the brightest gems that Starkville has to offer to the community.
Though it is not the traditional classroom, inside the walls of the small red brick building are two women who help make the center shine as a place where people can change their lives for the better.
Rose Coffey Graham and Gloria Conley are both adult basic education instructors at the J.L. King Center. The sole employees of the center, Graham and Conley teach adult classes that provide adult basic education, general educational development preparation, job readiness training and English as a Second Language preparation to anyone over the age of 17.
“Basically we implement the GED program and we assist students in obtaining their high school equivalency,” Graham said. “Not only do we assist with the GED program but there may be someone that wants to come in and maybe brush up on their reading, their math, social studies, science or writing skills.”
The program is under the umbrella of Family Centered Programs in the Starkville School District and is funded by the Mississippi Community College Board.
Graham, who received her associate degree in journalism from Wood College and a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Mississippi State University, worked as a case manager for the Department of Human Services before she came to the center in 1997.
Conley, who received her bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education with a minor in special education from Jackson State University, received her master’s from MSU in Elementary Education. She retired from being a school teacher after 34 years before coming to the center part-time four years ago.
Graham and Conley said they both enjoy working at the center, though there have been some challenges with attendance and retention over the years. They said that this is mainly due to the challenges that the students face themselves, such as illness, death, children, their job, and transportation.
“Although some people are required to come the majority are not, so when they have to come on their own they tend to get slack,” Graham said, “and there’s really nothing we can do about it. We just try to continue to encourage them to come.”
Working at the center does have an upside though. Conley said the center is important mainly because of the opportunities they afford the community and the county as a whole.
“People are given opportunities to get their education that they didn’t get for whatever reason,” Conley said. “It changes their lives. They just want to do better. They see this as their vehicle to get them to where they want to go.”
Domonique Green, a native of Shelby, Miss. has been coming to the center for about a month. He said coming to the center has turned his life around.
“It keeps me out of trouble and I’m actually learning something,” Green said.
Graham and Conley said that the center could not be possible without Joan Butler, director of Family Centered Programs, as well as their students. It is because of them that they keep working in hopes to continue to make a difference.
“Our philosophy is that if you start here you can go anywhere, and we really believe that,” Conley said. “Don’t just look at the world, be a part of the view. That’s what we tell our students.”
“We know there is a need,” Graham said, “and we want people to feel welcome to come here—anything we can do to help them along the way.”
Graham and Conley said that they welcome tutors to help teach at the center. The J.L. King Center’s hours are Monday-Thursday from 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. For more information on how to sign up for classes, call 662-324-6913.