ePathways Announces Next Internship Expo

It is with great enthusiasm that ePathways announces the next Internship Expo to be held Tuesday, April 11th, at NOAH's Event Venue in Lake Mary.  This event will connect students to employers interested in hosting interns this summer and/or fall.  Our goal is to increase our employer partnerships for spring to maximize learning opportunities for students. 

 

SCPS ePathways is actively seeking 150 employers interested in partnering with the district to provide students with authentic workplace experiences that allow students to apply the skills and knowledge developed in the classroom to the real world of work.  Employers interested in supporting workplace learning commit to providing 133 hours of paid or unpaid work to a high school student in the summer or fall of 2017 (June-July and/or August-December).  Business partners are supported by district administrators who facilitate the internship by conducting site visits, communicating with parents and schools, etc.

 

If you would like to participate in the next Internship Expo, please complete the intern request form to reserve your table for networking with students. More Info HERE

Casting a Wider Net for Giftedness

One of Walt Griffin’s first tasks after he was appointed superintendent of the Seminole County, Fla., school district in August 2012 was to comb through the system’s statistics.

“I was going through every piece of data I could imagine,” says Griffin, 57, who started as a middle school math teacher in Seminole in 1982 and rose through the ranks of the central Florida district to the top job.

But there was still information on the 67,000-student school system for Griffin to learn­—and to worry him.

“The gifted data for our district was very, very alarming,” Griffin says.


LESSONS FROM THE LEADER

Students’ Needs Are Paramount: Schools are frequently tied to student placement by their schedule. Build your master schedule around your students’ needs, always.
Advocate for All Students: Look at the data, make the tough decisions, follow through, and follow up to ensure excellence and equity for all.
Inspect What You Expect: Monitor and address misconceptions and stereotypes about gifted students and how you deliver gifted services. Take corrective action if you drift off course.
While the school system’s more affluent elementary schools could boast of dozens of students who were identified as gifted, the gifted enrollment at some of Seminole’s poorer schools could be counted on one hand, with fingers left over.

“We’re a district that prides ourselves on equity and excellence,” Griffin says. “At the end of the day, we have to be advocates for all people.”

Less than a year after Griffin took the helm, the school system launched an initiative to scout more broadly and bring more diversity to its gifted student population. To lead the effort, he tapped Jeanette Lukens, a district school psychologist with her own passion for identifying talent in underserved populations.

In 2015, Seminole County, in partnership with the University of Central Florida, was awarded a five-year, $2.4 million federal grant to support its work—dubbed Project ELEVATE—to expand gifted education to a broader base of students. ELEVATE, short for “English Learner Excellence eVolving through Advanced Teacher Education,” reflects the program’s focus on training teachers to better recognize potential giftedness.

Seminole was the only school district to receive a grant through the Jacob K. Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Program in 2015; funds through the program are more commonly awarded to university researchers. If funded for the full five years, Project ELEVATE will expand in Seminole County to seven additional schools, including two middle schools.

Photo: Eve Edelheit for Education Week
Too often, it’s easy to look at students in lower-performing schools and think only of remediation, Griffin says.

“The greatest way for students to gain success is to be challenged,” Griffin says. “You have to be very careful in remedial courses to make sure you’re not lowering the bar.”


Making a Difference

So far, the district’s efforts to bring more underrepresented students into gifted education have focused around five highly diverse Title I elementary schools, says Lukens, 37. While the district’s population of black students averages about 15 percent in its elementary schools, black student enrollment at the five schools ranges from about 31 to 56 percent.

The district’s population of English-language learners in elementary schools is around 8 percent, compared to 10 to 21 percent in the Project ELEVATE schools. And the schools also have a high population of economically disadvantaged students: 76 to 95 percent, compared to the district’s overall average of 52 percent in its elementaries.

At those five schools, gifted enrollment has risen from 62 students in September 2013 to 168 as of last June—hard evidence that the initiative is making a difference, Lukens says. Across the district, the share of low-income and black and Hispanic students who are identified as gifted has been trending upward.

The proportion of Hispanic students identified as gifted has risen from 10 percent of the overall gifted student enrollment to 14 percent. For black students, the share has risen from 4 percent to 6 percent, while the proportion of poor students who are identified grew from 22 percent to 34 percent between 2013 and 2016.

White students made up 66 percent of the gifted elementary student population in 2013 and 58 percent in 2016. Though the number of white gifted students increased by nearly 200 students over that time frame, their share of the overall gifted population decreased. Asian or Pacific Islander elementary gifted students held relatively steady at 11 percent in 2013 and 10 percent in 2016.

The number of Asian gifted elementary students increased by more than 20 in that three-year time span.

The greatest way for students to gain success is to be challenged.
Wicklow Elementary, in Sanford, Fla., is one of the schools whose students are benefitting from the extra attention of Project ELEVATE. When the initiative began, Wicklow Elementary—highly diverse, with 85 percent of its students eligible for free and reduced-price lunches—had just three out of about 700 students identified as gifted, says Principal Martina Herndon.

Now, more than 40 children have been identified.

“We try to exclude all of the other elements that often overshadow the giftedness,” Herndon explains. That means looking beyond students who are the hand-raisers or the straight-A earners.

“You have to be open-minded and have a panoramic view of a child,” Herndon says. “Sometimes your view gets so crowded because of [students’] home lives. But that doesn’t mean they’re not gifted.”

This kind of project would be expected from Griffin and Lukens.

In 1997, Griffin became principal of what was then Lakeview Middle School. The school system was under a desegregation order from the U.S. Department of Justice, and Lakeview Middle, with its high population of poor students, was identified as having vestiges of inequity. “The Justice Department told the district, ‘Fix it,’ ” Griffin says.

With the help of an “incredible team,” Griffin led the transformation of the middle school into a pre-International Baccalaureate magnet school that offers concentrations in fine arts and communications. He was able to hire the school staff, and eventually oversaw construction of a new facility, now called Millenium Middle School.

“I learned early on that if you give great teachers great opportunities and great resources, students will be successful,” Griffin says. “When I put my very strongest teachers with my most struggling students, those students thrived. And in a very short time, a school of 900 students that people did not want to attend had a waiting list.”

Photo: Eve Edelheit for Education Week
Lukens, as a school psychologist, had worked in several schools in the county, and noticed disparities in who was being referred to her for evaluation for gifted programs.

“One student really stands out in my mind,” Lukens says. It was the first year of the Project ELEVATE initiative, and she was evaluating a shy 5th-grader at a school with low gifted enrollment.

“She was remarkable. She had such a high IQ. And, it was bittersweet. That child had been at that school since kindergarten, and we just missed all those years servicing her,” Lukens says.


Multiple Pathways

Project ELEVATE’s primary focus is on making sure such children are not missed any more. Empowering teachers with that knowledge is critical, Lukens says.

“We don’t want a child’s ZIP code to hinder potential recognition of traits,” she says. And, while the district does screen all 2nd graders for gifted traits—as many districts are starting to do—that screening still doesn’t capture all students who may benefit from enriched education, she says.

That’s where teachers’ knowledge becomes so important, and that includes knocking down stereotypes of what giftedness may look like, she says.

“Children who are gifted are not gifted every moment of the day,” Lukens says. “They’re going to have strengths and weaknesses, just like everybody else.”

Once children are identified as potentially gifted, they go through additional evaluation, including IQ testing and other assessments. A score of 130 or above qualifies students for gifted education.

A “Plan B” pathway offers the district the option of using different criteria for English-language-learners and students from low-income families. Lukens says that many of the Project ELEVATE students are qualifying under the usual pathways.

Children who are gifted are not gifted every moment of the day. They’re going to have strengths and weaknesses, just like everybody else.
The district’s work is not about identifying those diamonds in the rough and then separating them from their peers. Project ELEVATE has allowed each school to have its own gifted education teacher who, in addition to working directly with gifted students, is also in charge of creating schoolwide enrichment programs.

That has led to activities such as after-school programs where students in the gifted program, as well as those who have not been formally identified, can explore academic subjects in depth.

“It’s a safe place for them to explore and ask questions,” Lukens says. “I think it’s important for the students to see there are children who are bright and who are from their community, and when we began this project it was few and far between.”


Enrichment Opportunities

The district has also taken students to visit the University of Central Florida, to get a taste of college life. “They’re seeing that this is an actual path for them, something beyond high school is real, and they can see it and touch it,” Lukens says.

The district has also paid for teachers throughout the county—not just those in Project ELEVATE schools—to get an endorsement in gifted education.

The focus on elementary enrichment is a logical progression to other work the district has undertaken at the middle and high school level, Griffin says.

For example, the district’s ePathways program allows middle and high school students to create a customized learning plan that includes virtual courses, traditional face-to-face classes and a wide range of options for acceleration. “It’s all about students finding their passions,” Griffin says.

Griffin also sits down with each principal in the district yearly to talk about academic enrichment opportunities for students.

He and his executive team also receive monthly status updates on the initiative.

“It’s become a ‘feel-good’ for us, because Jeanette is doing such a phenomenal job,” he says of Lukens.

When he told Lukens what he wanted to see in gifted elementary identification, “She started formulating within hours what needed to happen. She understands the data, and she has the skill set to articulate changes as a result of the data that she’s seeing.”

Says Lukens, “I feel really fortunate to work in a district that is really open to trying for new things. If it’s best for kids, they’re open to that.”

Seminole State Foundation’s 33rd annual Dream Gala raises $360,000

Thanks to the generosity of many supporters, the Foundation for Seminole State College of Florida’s annual Dream Gala raised $360,000 for student scholarships, faculty programs and areas of greatest need at the College. The gala was held at Orlando Marriott Lake Mary on Feb. 18.

“Sky of Dreams” was the theme of the evening, a fitting name to describe how throughout its 33 years, the Dream Gala has made countless students' educational dreams come true.  

 

“Once again, we see this great community join together in celebration to make dreams come true for so many of our students at Seminole State,” said Dr. John Gyllin, executive director of the Foundation for Seminole State. “The Dream Gala is our annual event to showcase this great College, support education and change lives. We did just that, and I am blown away by the generosity by our community partners.” 

 

Jorge Estevez, WFTV Channel 9 news anchor, served as master of ceremonies for the event. A reception, silent auction, Italian-themed dinner, live auction and scholarship auction made it a night to remember, as did the entertainment.

 

DJ Lindsey Leigh and the Weldon Street Jazz Combo entertained guests throughout the evening. Leading into the scholarship auction, SeminoleSound and the Concert Chorale, presented “Rainbow,” a moving adaptation of “Over the Rainbow” uniquely sung in both Italian and English.

 

Another highlight of the evening came during video testimonials featuring Seminole State students and scholarship recipients Andrea Avery and Felipe Mireles. Several guests were moved to tears as they heard the students’ stories and how the generosity of the College’s donors is helping them achieve their goals. Avery is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in construction to provide a better future for her two children. Mireles, who is studying physical therapy, hopes to open his own clinic one day.

During the scholarship auction, Estevez brought Avery and Mireles on stage so the 350 guests in attendance could meet them and hear from them personally.

 

The 2017 Dream Gala included a prize raffle for a Whynter 28-bottle, dual-zoned wine cooler filled with premium wines. The winner was Irina Mitina. The evening’s car raffle featured a 2017 Ford Mustang Coupe Premium, donated by the Central Florida Auto Dealers Association. Seminole County Sheriff Dennis Lemma drew the ticket for the car raffle, revealing former Seminole State Trustee Chuck Kovaleski as the winner.

In its history, the Dream Gala has raised nearly $5 million in support for Seminole State.

 

About the Foundation for Seminole State College: The Foundation is a not-for-profit, tax-exempt corporation dedicated to enhancing Seminole State College's programs and services through the development and management of private contributions, public grants and community partnerships. To give to the Foundation, visit the Foundation home page and click the Donate Now button. You can also connect with the Foundation on Facebook.