As high school graduation draws near, many local students are opening acceptance letters to the college of their dreams, which will one day lead them to a successful career. For Some students, however, life after high school will be a bit different, but one Yazoo County High School student is defying all of the challenges against him, as he recently was accepted into the ACCESS program at Mississippi State University.
Jeffrey Williams, son of Randy and Carrie Williams of Yazoo City, is a senior this year at Yazoo County High School.
Jeffrey is a bit different from his classmates in that he is an active member in the separate R.I.S.E. classroom at the high school, where he spends most of his time learning in a more structured environment.
The R.I.S.E. program which stands for Reaching Independence Through Structured Education, is taught by Mrs. Phylis Odum at Yazoo County High School, where Jeffrey and the other students in his class learn life skills like money management, organization, cooking, cleaning, and doing laundry, as well as other academic lessons in math, science, reading, writing and technology.
Carrie Williams, Jeffrey's mother, said that the R.I.S.E. Program and Mrs. Odum have given students like Jeffrey more opportunities to grow and learn than ever before.
"Mrs. Odum has been an amazing teacher since she came to the high school," Carrie said. "She has found grants to allow the kids to set up and manage a school coffee bar, and they also go on field trips and out to dinner where they can practice etiquette."
As a part of this program, Jeffrey and his classmates operate the True Blue Brew at the school where they serve coffee and donuts to teachers, exchange money, and order more products when needed.
Carrie added that programs like R.I.S.E. teach students that they can be more and do more in life, despite having a disability.
"I don't look at Jeffrey as disabled, I don't think of him that way or treat him as disabled," she said. "But he tries his best at everything and never gives up, and I wish that other students could say that."
Jeffrey has always had a love for the United States Military, and joined the JROTC program at Yazoo County High School as a freshman, where he now holds the rank of First Lieutenant.
"In JROTC, I stand at attention and recite the creed every day before they call the roll," he said. "I also have learned leadership skills, how to be organized, how to be a better citizen, we march in parades, and I can also run better."
Jeffrey is a member of the ROTC Physical Training team, where he runs the 1 Mile race at meets and competitions.
Running soon became an excellent exercise outlet for Jeffrey, and he became a member of the Boys Track and field, and Cross Country teams his sophomore year.
"My fastest time for running 1 mile is about six minutes and something," he said. "And I do the 2 mile in track and field, and my fastest time for that was 13:03."
Carrie said that Jeffrey's involvement in R.I.S.E. as well as JROTC have definitely seemed to increase his confidence in himself and his abilities.
"He is very focused and determined to succeed," she said.
Jeffrey's determination to succeed despite many challenges, have become an inspiration to the rest of his peers at Yazoo County High School, who voted to name him Mr. JROTC for Homecoming this year.
Jeffrey's hard work and dedication has also been noticed by school administrators and coaches, who made sure to present him with a variety of awards year after year.
During his Sophomore Year, Jeffrey was presented with a School Service award by the High School Principals, for speaking and greeting other students as they entered the building each morning.
"He was one of the most polite and helpful kids that the principal and vice principal noticed that year," Carrie said.
During his junior year, Jeffrey was named Most Improved in Cross Country and in JROTC. He won the Coaches Award in Boys Track and Field, and also won the JROTC Physical Training Award.
Academically, Jeffrey has been named to the Honor Roll in 9th, 10th, and 11th grade, and also made the Principal's List this year for maintaining his good grades in class.
Outside of the classroom, Jeffrey has been involved in several school clubs such as the Engineering Club, the Young Gentlemen's Club, and is now participating in the Barbecue Club.
Another part of Jeffery's academic skill involves his love for Auto-Mechanics, which he has developed over the years as a student at the Larry Summer Vocational Center.
"I have an A, and I like that we learn to fix vehicles," he said.
"He likes the hands-on work," Carrie said. "He likes when he gets to go in there and change the oil out, change tires, or fix headlights for the teachers."
Carrie said that outside of school, Jeffrey often helps Lisa Reams with rescuing puppies, and helps with feeding, watering, and maintaining their kennels.
Jeffrey is very involved as a member of Calvary Baptist Church in Yazoo City, where he is a part of the Men's Sunday School program, and often assists with the church food pantry and backpack ministry.
"I help out a lot at church," he said. "I help clean and pass out calendars and bulletins."
"He hands out programs and greets church members who come in on Sunday Mornings," Carrie said. "He just helps with anything and everything they ask him to do."
At 17 years old, Jeffrey has the same dreams as all the other seniors this year, he wants to go to college to learn more and earn his way to a career.
"I plan to go to the Mississippi State University," he said.
Because Jeffrey is different from other students his age, Mississippi State offers an alternative for students with disabilities to get a similar college experience through the ACCESS program.
In this program, participants can attend and audit college-level classes, learn important life skills like housekeeping and money management, work a variety of jobs through internships, and eventually gain independence for themselves.
Students who complete all four years of the ACCESS program at Mississippi State will also receive a Certificate of Completion and they will participate in the university's graduation ceremonies.
Carrie said that she and Jeffrey first learned of this program from Mrs. Odum.
"Mrs. Odum told us that she knew Jeffrey would be a great candidate for this program because he is always so very helpful and hardworking," Carrie said.
In order to learn more about the program, Carrie and her husband Randy took Jeffrey to ACCESS Camp at Mississippi State earlier this summer, to see if it would be a good fit.
"They had him doing everything from making beds, cooking, cleaning, writing, math, making PowerPoint presentations, you name it," she said. "After we came home from camp we also received an evaluation that they did on Jeffrey and his performance and we were so happy to see that he excelled in every category."
After this positive interaction with the program, the Williams family returned to Mississippi State in October for Open House, to see more of the program's facilities, and to learn about the application process.
"We had to send the application to MSU per the ACCESS program," Carrie said. "There were probably 70 other applicants, but Jeffrey was chosen as one of the Top 11."
After making it through the first cut, the Williams worked together with Mrs. Odum to help prepare Jeffrey for the second step, which would involve him giving a PowerPoint presentation and an interview in front of seven strangers from the university.
"Mrs. Odum made up practice interviews for Jeffrey with questions, and she had his classmates and teachers interview him just so he would be prepared," Carrie said.
This second step would result in a final cut, where only 4 students will be chosen to begin the ACCESS program at Mississippi State this fall.
"We got to the campus in January for his interview, and he was up against some stiff competition," Carrie said. "But they were all clapping when he came out so we are hoping that it was a good sign."
Jeffrey said that he was happy to have the chance to do the interview and show others that he has goals for his future if he can get into the program.
"I want to achieve living on my own, making more decisions on my own, being more independent, and I want my own apartment," he said. "But I am a little nervous if I am going to be accepted or not because I won't know right away."
While they wait to see if Jeffery was accepted into the program, Williams and Mrs. Odum are working together on a Plan B which would still allow Jeffrey to pursue his dream of independence.
"There are other programs that we have been researching for Jeffrey, but we are really praying for the ACCESS program to come through," Carrie said.
To Jeffrey, the challenge of going to college is just one of many he will face in life, but he reminds everyone to never give up on their dreams.
"I tell people to have faith in yourself because you will always have challenges to face," he said. "So don't give up."