Gifted and Talented launches community partnership program

With barely a week left of their time at Burbank Elementary School, a group of fifth-graders gathered in the school’s green-and-blue painted library for what may be the last time.

These students—a part of the Gifted and Talented program on campus—were not there for a graduation or year-end celebration, but rather a mentorship program with KPMG that helped them set goals for the summer as they transition into middle school.

“I want to read more over the summer,” one student said during his session. “That way I can get to sixth grade ready to go.”

The program, a partnership between the Gifted and Talented Department and the Office of Community Partnerships, is being piloted at five campuses across HISD—Almeda, Burbank, Memorial, School at St. George Place, and Rucker elementary schools.

The initial pilot program involved two hour-long virtual sessions with the mentors, with 28 students participating across the five schools. The students work with volunteer mentors from a Houston company—currently KPMG—and focus on key areas, like leadership, mathematics, and technology.

For Heather Luebbers, principal of Burbank Elementary School, taking part in the program despite it being a trial was an easy decision.

“Here at Burbank Elementary, we are really looking to nurture the whole child. It’s not just simply about doing great on test scores, it’s about maximizing each child’s potential in a unique way,” Luebbers said. “When the GT department reached out to us about this mentoring program, I thought it would be a fantastic opportunity for students to match their skill set to real-world applications.”

In the pilot, the sessions are broken out over two visits. The first, according to Advanced Academics Specialist Kimberly Lewis with the Gifted and Talented department, is about building a rapport between mentors and the students, as well as between the students themselves. The second session centers goal-setting, especially as the students prepare for summer break and their impending transition to middle school.

“We envision this as sort of a fireside chat,” Lewis said. “We give the mentors a skeleton curriculum. We want them to tweak it to make it their own, to include videos or stories that help them say what they want to say.”

The next step according to Lewis is that parents, teachers, students, and the mentors will have a chance to offer feedback about the pilot program. From there, adjustments will be made, with the program aiming for a full launch in the fall. Eventually, other schools and grades could be brought into the program, as well as professionals from different fields to match student interests.

But for now, the fifth-graders are the perfect age group for the mentorship program. That timing—as the students are making the shift from elementary school to a more advanced middle school mindset—is intentional.

“I believe that since they are still young, they have so many skills that haven’t been brought to light. They might go on about their life not fully considering their strengths,” Andrea Macias, Interventionist at Burbank Elementary, said. “I feel that when they have a mentoring program, they start using their skills and believe in their potential.”