HATTIESBURG, Miss. (AP) — When Paul Doba was attending a private school, he was supposed to be in 10th grade. But he was studying fourth grade-level English, fifth grade-level word building and seventh grade-level math. It wasn't going well.
Doba, 17, dropped out in spring 2016.
"I was not getting the help I needed," he said. "I was experiencing bullying. I wasn't able to fit in like I wanted to.
"I had low self-esteem. I thought I couldn't make it anywhere."
Doba's educational experience is much different now. He is attending the Adult Education program at Pearl River Community College's Forrest County Center and working to get his high school equivalency diploma. So far, he has passed the math portion — earning a 14, when only an eight is needed.
He hopes to have his diploma by January.
Doba attends PRCC under the Second Chance MS initiative — a program founded by Dickie and Zach Scruggs, who know a lot about second chances. The father and son both spent time in federal prison in a judicial bribery case. While behind bars, they helped other inmates study for their GEDs. Since getting out, they have been committed to supporting adult education.
The Second Chance program pays for the high school equivalency diploma, gives a $150 bonus when the student earns the degree and offers another $100 when the student passes a career technical course associated with the degree.
Doba had to be recommended for the program by PRCC's adult education navigator, Sarah Simmons. She said Second Chance students must be able to succeed in PRCC's courses and prosper in college and career. There are only 23 Second Chance students out of the approximately 200 students pursuing their high school equivalency diploma at the Forrest County campus.
As it turns out, Doba was probably struggling with dyslexia the entire time he was in school. His sister was diagnosed earlier this year when she was 13, and Doba experiences many of the same symptoms. Doctors do not routinely give a diagnosis of dyslexia to someone Doba's age.
"If I look at a white piece of paper, the letters and the words get all jumbled up," he said. "I can read with a blue background. I can understand if someone reads it to me."
Doba's classmate, David Crofoot, is also a Second Chance student. He entered middle school several grades behind after being home-schooled for five years.
"Because I wasn't in school, I felt I didn't have to take the work seriously," he said of his home-school experience. "I went really slowly.
"If I'd been smart about it, I would have gone faster and actually tried."
Crofoot found himself in high school as a 17-year-old ninth-grader, after being held back several times in previous years. He dropped out after ninth grade and came to PRCC in August to get his high school equivalency diploma.
"I was worried at first because (PRCC) was an alien environment," he said. "I thought I wasn't equipped for it."
But Crofoot quickly found out he had the skills to thrive at the college. When he took his initial assessments, he scored above a 12th-grade level in reading. He's earned his high school equivalency diploma and is now working part time and taking a manufacturing basic skills class. He plans to enroll full time in the spring and work toward an electrical degree.
Simmons said Crofoot has come a long way.
"David is very intelligent," she said. "I don't think he knows he's smart because of what he's been through. He was worried he was behind and wouldn't do well.
"I think David will do very well in the electrical program."
Doba is planning on pursuing a welding or HVAC degree at PRCC. Simmons says both students should find lucrative employment upon graduation.
Crofoot is daring to look forward to a few things.
"I do hope to have a well-paying job, a nice house and a nice family," he said.
Simmons expects Doba will achieve the same things.
"Paul was very quiet, very shy (when he first arrived)," she said. "He was beaten down. Now, he's talkative, outgoing — one of the most caring and considerate young men I've ever met.
"He's excited about his future. When he first came, he didn't realize he could have a future."
Doba wants to complete college in two or three years, get a job and take care of a family.
"I can (do it)," he said. "I've got a life ahead of me."