In the six years since its founding, Camp Launch, the W&M Center for Gifted Education’s two-week residential camp for academically gifted middle-school students, has served 240 students, 87 of whom were from the Norfolk area.
For students like Jessica Vincent, the experience is one that has been life-changing. Vincent was a 7th grade camper in 2012, the first year the camp was offered. She returned the following year as an 8th grade camper, then as a junior TA. Now a senior in the Medical and Health Specialties Program at Maury High School, Vincent has been a part of every single Camp Launch, returning to Williamsburg each summer to attend the opening ceremony and serve as a mentor to campers.
“Opportunities are what you make of them,” she said. “I was just supposed to be a two-year camper, but it become so much more than that. Camp Launch believed in me and has helped me grow into what I call my ‘three Cs’ — commitment, communication and confidence.”
And though she wasn’t very interested in the STEM fields before attending Camp Launch, she now has her sights set on a college degree in psychology and a career as a family and marriage therapist.
Vincent shared her experiences at the October 18 meeting of the Norfolk Public School Board, when Camp Launch was recognized for its efforts enhancing the educational experiences of Norfolk students.
Valerie Tuck, the senior coordinator for academic rigor with Norfolk Public Schools, has long been a supporter of Camp Launch, identifying talented students who could benefit from the experience. “This program has helped to transform our students into learners who understand who they are and where they want to go,” she said.
The camp is designed to support academically gifted students from low-income families at a critical point in their development. Research shows that early intervention for middle-schoolers can make a huge impact on their success in high school and likelihood to attend college.
In addition to engaging STEM courses like Lego Robotics and Pre-Med, campers take personal development and life skills courses that help them gain an important foundation for navigating high school and beyond.
Tracy Cross, executive director of the Center for Gifted Education, said at the event, “In my 35 years of work in higher education, this is the program I’m most proud of.”
Cross created Camp Launch in 2012 with the help of Mihyeon Kim, who directs the camp as well as the other pre-collegiate learner programs offered by the center. “Mihyeon has run the camp from day one,” explained Cross. “She is an extraordinary person, and Camp Launch couldn’t be successful without her.”
Cross also recognized the support of Patty O’Neill, the director of development for the School of Education. Cross described her as an “unsung hero” who believed early in the potential of the project and helped secure the funding to make it possible.
The camp was originally supported by a grant from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, which provided start-up funds and four years of funding for the program. In 2016, alumni Nancy Briggs Petters ’81 and Mike Petters M.B.A. ’93 made a generous $1 million gift that ensured Camp Launch could continue to help students. The private funds have allowed Cross and Kim to broaden the reach of the program and develop new plans for the camp.
“This is what the future looks like — these are our future doctors, lawyers, teachers and leaders,” said Cross. “It’s an honor to work with the children of Norfolk.”
View the full video of the October 18 Norfolk Public Schools meeting.