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VICKSBURG, Miss. (AP) — The sign on the wall overlooking the rear deck of Jacob’s Ladder says “A special place for special people.” Rebecca Busby is one of the reasons.

Busby is Jacob’s Ladder’s director. A position she’s held since March of 2013.

A native of Orange Grove, she taught first grade for three years in Rolling Fork at South Delta Elementary School and came to Vicksburg in 1997. She was working on her master’s in education when she interviewed for the director’s position at Jacob’s Ladder.

“After three years teaching, I stopped to spend time with my three small children,” she said. “When my youngest was almost 2, I decided to go back to school to pursue my master’s in education. The plan was to go back into the public school system when she entered kindergarten.”

In the meantime, she began teaching part-time at First Presbyterian Church Preschool and Kindergarten, where her children were attending.

“In March 2013, the director of the preschool, Jennifer Coulter, called me and said I have a job opportunity for you. It was the director of Jacob’s Ladder.

“My gut reaction was ‘no,’ because I don’t have a background in special education. She said just go talk to them. I came here and talked with two ladies from the board, and I said ‘OK, I’ll stay until the end of the school year,’ and they said, ‘That’s fine. We can re-evaluate at the end of the school year.’

“And in May I was the one asking if I could stay.”

The reason, Busby said, was the students.

“They’re so special and so loving, and they grabbed my heart strings and wouldn’t let go, and it helped that Mandy Grimshel and I work so well together. We were both hired at the same time, and we’re a very good team, which makes for a very good workmate.”

The students at Jacob’s Ladder, she said, are so loving and so eager to participate in activities in the community.

“They want to make friends with everybody and they love to paint the ceramics. They’re just a joy to be around. You have a bad day and come to work and see their smiles, that bad day is gone.”

Busby said the days at Jacob’s Ladder are busy, adding the students at the school are more involved in the community than when she first arrived.

“We have partnerships with St. Aloysius, River City Early College; we have had girls who participate in a ballet group called Dance From the Heart taught by Jessica Ruff from First Presbyterian. She teaches them; they have practice once a week and performances throughout the year.

“We play bingo at the convalescent home; we go to the YMCA on Tuesdays, we have the Turkey Trot (race), our second annual, and now we have ceramics. There’s not a lot of downtime. We now have a partnership with Junior Auxiliary they have adopted our ceramics program as a project. Once a week there are ladies on the project that come and help with training.

“It’s the students, and the community wraps its arms around us every time we go to Chick-fil-A or Gumbo Pot or wherever we go in the community, or when we go to River City Early College, or when we go to St. Al. Wherever we go, everyone is just so welcoming and so loving.”

Busby said working at Jacob’s Ladder sometimes requires patience, especially when working with students with more challenging disabilities.

“I think being a mom helps, and teaching in the classroom. I think they have rendered a good amount of experience; a certain amount of knowledge. It’s the combination.”

When she began as director, she said, she was nervous because of her lack of experience in special education, but it didn’t take long to become comfortable with the position.

The students, she said, “Taught me a lot.”

She said there is not a lot of time spent teaching the students.

“We don’t spend a lot of time in the classroom. When we have down time, some of them enjoy pulling out a math sheet, and some students, who when we do have down time, I get a worksheet for them. It’s not necessarily to give them busy work, but it can help them focus, and using counters or using a pencil are good forms of therapy.”

Busby said a lot of time is spent practicing life skills.

“When we go to Chick-fil-A, they order and pay themselves, (and) we’re there helping them. Not only do they practice ordering and paying for their food, they have to use their social skills while we’re eating, and interact with the community.”

How well a student masters those life skills, she said, depends on the individual.

“One student may be able to go so far, while another student barely reaches this (particular) milestone. At this point, our youngest student is 17 and our oldest is 42.”

All the students, she said, have daily chores at the school, ranging from cleaning the bathroom to wiping the tables, sweeping, taking out the trash, cleaning up after lunch, and laundry.

The chores are rotated so every student throughout the year gets experience in the kitchen or with sweeping or laundry.

“For the year, we have a kitchen helper schedule, and Mandy is over the kitchen. Mandy oversees the kitchen; every day she will have 2 or 3 students in the kitchen, and they help her prepare the food for that day and services for that day.”

The chores, she said, are helpful if the students ever leave Jacob’s ladder and are able to live on their own with assistance, they are able to use a microwave or wash a load of clothes.

The day at Jacob’s Ladder begins with students coming between 7:45 and 8 a.m., and leaving by 2:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.

“We follow the public school schedule,” she said. “We’re off during the summer, but it’s nice to come back.”

Busby said she will see the students during the summer at the YMCA or in a store or a restaurant, adding “It’s always good to see them. Usually they see us first.”

“I’m passionate about Jacob Ladder,” she said. “I feel extremely fortunate to be one of the lucky few who truly loves their job. I love coming to work every day.

“I love going to arts and crafts festivals on weekends to sell ceramics. I just love to tell the Jacob’s Ladder story. We are truly meeting a need, and I’m honored to be part of Jacob’s Ladder.”