Seminole County Public Schools’ (SCPS) School Psychologist and alumna Jeanette Lukens, ’06 and ’13, is extremely passionate about Gifted Education. She took a Special Populations of Gifted course at our college with Dr. Gillian Eriksson four years ago and has been on a mission to boost gifted-student identification in Title I schools ever since.
Lukens’ perseverance prevailed when Education Week recently recognized her and SCPS Superintendent Dr. Walt Griffin as 2017 Learners to Learn From in Gifted Education.
Her journey began by creating a partnership with SCPS and UCF along with collaborating with Dr. Eriksson and her team on Project ELEVATE (English Learner Excellence eVolving through Advanced Teacher Education). The program’s focus is on educating teachers to better recognize potential giftedness.
UCF has developed an extensive program of training for a SCPS team of Teacher Leaders who were selected from the five current Project ELEVATE Title I schools in how to identify giftedness, address the needs of diverse learners from marginalized and high-needs populations, and develop a culturally and internationally relevant curriculum under the direction of Dr. Eriksson.
College of Education and Human Performance (CEDHP) faculty are also involved in presenting workshops on how to enrich and accelerate learning for all students in Language and Literacy, Mathematics, and Science along with adaptations for English Learners.
In addition, Dr. Eriksson has presented workshops within each school to grade-level teams on the Schoolwide Enrichment Model, aimed at differentiating for all learners.
UCF has developed a unique use of TeachLivE, creating a simulated gifted classroom based on real case studies and a new avatar modeled after a real gifted student, which is being used in each school to train teachers how to recognize types and levels of giftedness and address underachievement through an appropriate curriculum.
UCF is also designing and hosting a summer program for gifted students from each school for Project ELEVATE on campus along with the Computer Pals Across the World program, which links the Project ELEVATE schools to teachers and classrooms in other countries.
This summer, UCF is also working with a separate team of curriculum specialists from each school to develop model units that integrate an international curriculum for English Learners along with assisting the schools with talent development and the after school program where UCF students complete service-learning hours.
On April 22, UCF is hosting the UCF ADAGE Gifted Conference at the Morgridge International Reading Center. The event, coordinated by Dr. Eriksson and sponsored by Project ELEVATE, is designed to meet the dual goals of community outreach and sharing the success of the project.
In 2015, Project ELEVATE received funding from a U.S. Department of Education five-year, $2.4 million Jacob K. Javits grant for increasing the number of gifted and talented students from underserved populations.
Lukens is the project’s SCPS principal investigator and works closely with UCF’s principal investigator Dr. Eriksson to assist teachers with identifying and serving high-ability, gifted, and talented students and English Language Learners (ELL) from low-income areas.
Initially, Project ELEVATE concentrated on five elementary schools and plans to expand to seven additional schools, including two middle schools in the future.
Learn more about Lukens and Project ELEVATE.
What is your educational background?
My Bachelor of Science is in Psychology with a minor in Education from the University of Florida. I completed a School Psychology Ed.S. program at UCF in 2006. I also completed the Graduate Certificate in Gifted Education with Dr. Eriksson at UCF in 2013.
Why did you pursue a School Psychologist career?
I have always been very interested in working with children. My mother was a preschool teacher, so I grew up in an education setting. I was interested in school psychology because of the counseling and evaluation components. I thought it was very interesting to help identify students with their areas of need in a school setting. It was a nice wide variety of areas of need from anything to a learning disability to intellectually disabled all the way through high-achieving and gifted students. It was also very interesting to me to see how those dynamics played in a school setting and how I could help with support.
How are you making a difference with students as a School Psychologist?
I’m really helping to support success for each student. Whether that be evaluations or supporting and connecting parents to additional resources in a school or the community. Helping to make students as successful as possible in reaching their potential in a school setting. I’m also helping teachers and educators in supporting their students.
What sparked your Project ELEVATE idea in Dr. Gillian Eriksson’s Special Populations of Gifted course during Spring 2013?
I have always had an interest in the type and number of referrals that I receive as a School Psychologist. Depending on the school that I was working in, there would be little or no gifted referrals in some of our Title I schools and schools that are serving economically disadvantaged students. However, I would receive a huge influx in referrals when I would be assigned to a school in the upper middle class portion of our district.
I learned about the difficulties and challenges that could come about with identifying gifted students from different populations during Dr. Eriksson’s class. One of the assignments that I worked on during that time period was developing a revision of my school district’s matrix for gifted identification.
My school district approved the revision and then we updated and edited our existing matrix and received approval from the Florida Department of Education. It’s currently being used in my school district for identifying students using that alternative plan. That plan is being used for students who need it and are learning English as a second language.
How did Project ELEVATE become a reality after you graduated from UCF?
I was a traditional School Psychologist at the time and working on the gifted initiative work group. The school district noticed our results. That kicked off the conversation regarding me applying for a Jacob K. Javits grant. The Javits program specifically focuses on promising current projects, procedures, and policies that are showing results on increasing diversity in gifted populations. That prompted us to go back to Dr. Eriksson at UCF and try to expand our partnership further. They were very supportive in our matrix development and gifted initiative, but now we were really wanting to possibly expand and partner with this proposal for the Javits program. That kicked off Project ELEVATE, which is taking what we have already been successful in doing with our gifted initiative and expanding our efforts. Of course, bringing in UCF as a partner with their expertise in professional development for our teachers is essential. We have seen a lot of progress already with our partnership.
How does Seminole County Public Schools and UCF collaborate with Project ELEVATE?
Dr. Eriksson and I are Project ELEVATE partners. The university team is focused on the professional development aspect for our grant, which is a tremendous portion of the project. They are providing numerous hours of professional development to our teachers in our grant pool. They’re also helping us to develop specific gifted curriculum in our schools that is much more culturally and internationally relevant for our children.
Dr. Eriksson and her team developed training sessions based on our grant objectives utilizing the virtual classroom TeachLivE and traditional professional development. I provided robust SCPS student case studies and TeachLivE has enhanced and edited current student avatars in the virtual classroom with that information. They’re also helping with our gifted service delivery models and helping structure what we call talent development, which are opportunities for students who are not fully identified as gifted, but are showing potential. We have been able to do some of these things on our own, but to have the university’s support and expertise has been really essential to the project.
How has this collaboration helped the teachers better recognize potential giftedness in Title 1 schools?
We have done a lot of training on how giftedness is typically or expected to manifest versus how it may manifest in a child from this particular population. Utilizing TeachLivE has been very helpful and it’s bringing professional development to life. Instead of regurgitating what those traits may look like, we’re working with the avatars and students are actually manifesting those traits. It’s allowing teachers to have opportunities to recognize those traits and to really breakdown myths, stereotypes, and misconceptions. We’re also seeing teachers beginning to implement some strategies and instructional techniques that we have been providing in the professional development whether the children are gifted or not. They’re seeing some of that motivation and increased engagement along with asking higher-level thinking questions as part of their instructional planning.
How has Project ELEVATE grown and benefited students in the past two years since first receiving the grant?
The numbers have increased and we’re looking at a variety of data. We have also seen an increase with the teacher professional development. There’s limited pre-service training in regards to gifted students. We’re having parent training at our schools and have seen an increase in family engagement. We just implemented an after school program this year. We’re utilizing UCF students from the College of Education and Human Performance to help with the after school program and give them an opportunity to get their service-learning hours. We’re going to be implementing a summer camp for the first time this summer. We have seen a lot more students being considered for gifted screening that may have not been before. We have seen an increase in diversity in the number of students who are in the program. It has been so powerful for these students who may be the only one from their neighborhood or cultural background. Now they’re seeing other students coming into those classrooms who are just like them. That’s very powerful!
Why is it important to identify gifted students early?
Early intervention is beneficial for students. Particularly, with gifted children because they have unique needs. Those needs have to be met academically and socio-emotionally. I would like to get to them as quickly and early as possible to foster that love of learning and critical thinking and continue that motivation, excitement, and curiosity.
What was your reaction when Education Week recognized you and Seminole County Public Schools’ Superintendent Dr. Walt Griffin as 2017 Leaders to Learn From in Gifted Education?
It was very humbling and absolutely a wow moment! It’s encouraging to receive support for the work that you do. There are so many people working on this project and to be able to share that with them is exciting and validating. There’s such great work happening across the nation and to even be considered was such an honor. It’s very exciting for our team and really motivating and uplifting. We have to continue to roll up our sleeves and get to work! We’re thankful because this wouldn’t have happened without UCF.
What does the Education Week recognition mean to you?
I think it just means so much in a field where you’re not always publically recognized. It’s exciting and a foreign concept, but it all comes down to the kids. The hours of work, effort, and challenges make it all worth it.
What advice do you have for other students pursuing a graduate degree?
I think it’s time and money well spent. It has been powerful to see efforts and try techniques and strategies immediately in the workforce. In my expertise and experience, I found an area of passion and it’s so exciting to see it come to life. I’m very fortunate that my professor Dr. Eriksson turned into a mentor and is now a colleague. I think that’s so unique and exciting to see our relationship evolve.
How has the College of Education and Human Performance made your educational dreams come true?
They provided me with a tremendous foundation for me in learning for my area of choice. That allowed me to be very prepared for my professional career. It also allowed me to feel comfortable and confident in exploring some areas of interest and expanding my professional skills. The college provided me with classes, coursework, and assignments that are really applicable to the professional and educational setting, which has allowed me to really explore projects with confidence.