The following frequently asked questions (FAQs) will help you understand how our program works – and why it is important!
What are the qualifications needed to get into the program? Do you provide equal opportunity for all gifted students to get into the program? How is at-risk defined?
All students are identified by their schools as gifted. Levels of “giftedness” vary depending on the school in which the student is enrolled.
At-risk is first defined by the fact that the overwhelming majority of our students qualify for their school’s free and reduced lunch program. All students are treated equally under the application process.
Students are recommended by their guidance counselors or teachers and then during the interview process many of the other at-risk identifiers become evident. These include but certainly are not limited to one or more parent being incarcerated, students in living conditions that are at the poverty level (students living in hotels, in homes without electricity, or living with multiple families in one dwelling.) Often the grandparents are raising the student. The at-risk characteristics are so varied, it would take a book to describe them. One Climber shared during a Chapel Talk that all of their friends had either been killed or shot at and they feared that would also be their fate if they went home after the program ended for the summer. The student was later enrolled in a boarding school to get them out of that home environment.
Once a student is accepted into the program, all have the same opportunities. Any limiting factors usually come from the parents who do not understand all of the doors that can be opened for their child by being a part of Jacob’s Ladder. All students are followed/tracked through high school with our advocacy program.
If you are oversubscribed on qualified students, how does your selection process work? Is there more focus on the gifted portion, the at-risk portion, or something else? Who decides in the end?
When interviewing an overwhelming number of potential climbers, the first and most important qualification we have found for a student to be successful is that there has to be someone in that child’s life who is willing to be a contact for us. It most often is the parent or grandparent but teachers have filled the role as have other school personnel or relatives. There are also some at-risk characteristics that we at JL are not equipped to handle. These would include issues like severe emotional or violent behaviors or debilitating depression.
An admissions committee has the final say on who gets selected for the program. As we accept rising 4th and 5th graders, we reserve the right to defer – for one year – a child’s acceptance into the program as a 4th grader if we have too many applicants for the number of available spaces.
Is getting these kids into college the end goal of your program? What other end goals beside getting into college do you focus on?
Our goals do include college however, we realize that each student has different talents and gifts. Several have chosen to serve in the armed forces after high school and we are very proud of their choice and service to our country. In addition to academic development, other aspects including leadership, spiritual and physical development are addressed. Activities and classes to enhance growth include chapel, evening devotions, swimming, mindfulness, and PE.
Along with these goals we strive to have the climbers understand that their God-given gifts also come with responsibilities and these include giving back to the community or striving to make a difference for others. During the program and throughout the year, we have included time activities for Climbers to serve others. We have offered service trips, and we have gleaned corn and other vegetables for one of the local food banks. We have sponsored shelter boxes in conjunction with the civic organizations. We have supported our troops overseas through care-packages and letters, and will continue to emphasize the need to give back.
Is there any emphasis in using the gifts of these talented kids in their at-risk low opportunity environments to improve their existing environment or is the focus to get the kids out of their at-risk low opportunity environments by getting them into college with the hope that in the future these kids will return and give back once they have become successful by getting into college or in other ways of becoming successful using their gifts?
Climbers come from all over Virginia and their environments differ dramatically based on their locations. We have inner city students, and rural students, and the ages of the Climbers vary from 9 to 14 years old. Historically, the program has affected families, for example, when one mother saw what her child was able to achieve through Jacob’s Ladder, she decided to go to nursing school herself and became a nurse, thus breaking one cycle of poverty. We have former climbers who are now teachers and some have returned to teach in the summer program. Many of our Resident Advisors are former climbers who have completed at least one year of college.
It is safe to say that Jacob’s Ladder has given the climbers a safe environment in which they do not have to hide their giftedness or other talents to “fit in”. They cite in their letters, requesting to return to the program for the next summer, that Jacob’s Ladder has given them a sense of family and friends that they had never before had the opportunity to experience.
How do you define success as an organization? How do you define a successful kid that goes thru your program?
We define success one climber at a time, with a 31-year track record of encouraging more than 454 Climbers to reach a life of success (with a 94% rate of heading to college study or a military career). When one grows into a more caring and charitable individual and does not squander the gifts he or she has been given then that is indeed a success.