Gifted Diversity

by Kourtney Cockrell

A recent article in the New York Times caught my attention. It reported on how poverty continues to play a significant role in children’s access to gifted programs in New York City. The problem is growing at the kindergarten level.

I find it disheartening that in one of our country’s most diverse and populated cities, only five children from a poverty-ridden part of the South Bronx received a gifted placement for kindergarten, compared with 448 kids from a higher-income district which includes the Upper East Side, Midtown, and much of Lower Manhattan.

More often than not, we hear about the achievement gap from a basic proficiency standpoint. This article presents some of the challenges that New York is facing within the world of gifted such as too few services, inadequate identification and placement practices.  New York is not alone.  Their situation underscores the fact that educators everywhere need to be talking about best practices in identifying exceptional talent and opportunities to nurture it among all populations.

Models of success exist. Many of them involve collaboration between schools and gifted organizations.  One example is the work that we do at the Center for Talent Development (CTD).

At CTD, we offer a number of scholarship programs that identify and support underrepresented gifted students. All of our outreach programs are based on early intervention and provide comprehensive programming that includes: parental engagement, social and emotional supports and resources for college planning.

One program is Project EXCITE.  Each year, in cooperation with the Evanston school district, located just north of the City of Chicago, we select 20 – 25 third grade students.  We work closely with the children and their families through grade eight to help nurture their talent.

The kids participate in accelerated programming after school, on the weekends and during the summer. Additionally, we offer free tutoring in partnership with Northwestern University and coordinate family meetings that focus on academic achievement. We’ve made advancements along the way and each new class of students enter high school prepared and ready to succeed in honors and Advanced Placement courses.

Some of the most important lessons we have learned in working with underrepresented gifted students include: offering a flexible and multidimensional approach when identifying new students, engaging parents and families throughout, utilizing school contacts and counselors, and integrating a high level of cultural competency into the fabric of all programs, initiatives, events and communication.

We also recognize that there is no “one size fits all” approach when working with underrepresented gifted students. The issue is complex and requires educators and administrators to be inclusive, compassionate and committed to providing the necessary resources and time to sustain successful and thriving communities of underrepresented, gifted learners.

We hope that other teachers, parents and community leaders find our experience useful as they work to decrease the gaps – access, achievement and otherwise –  within the world of gifted education.

Kourtney Cockrell  is a native Evanstonian and is passionate about diversity work and education. As the coordinator for Project EXCITE, Cockrell works closely with the local Evanston community, the staff at CTD and the Evanston Public School Districts 65 and 202 to manage outreach programs and activities aimed at closing the achievement gap.


4 responses

  1. A wonderful program! I know it’s so needed here in Evanston. But why the 3rd grade start? Why not earlier? If gifted kids are just wired that way, why not start supporting them and their exhausted parents earlier in their lives?

    • Thanks for sharing your feedback, Jen! Since this is an after-school program, it was felt in conversation with many teachers that 3rd grade was a developmentally appropriate age to begin the program.

      In other contexts, CTD does offer supplemental educational experiences for younger students. Our Saturday Enrichment program, Gifted LearningLinks, and Leapfrog Summer Program each have opportunities for gifted learners younger than third grade.
      -Kourtney @ CTD

  2. Thank you so much for sharing this information. As a nation we will not be successful in the future unless we do all we can to develop the gifts in all communities. We will need our brightest minds in the future no matter what their backgrounds are. So today we have to work harder togther to nurture and develop their gifts. Many thanks to CTD for your exemplary work!!

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