Project Excite Expands Enrichment of Gifted Minority Students’ Learning

Project Excite Expands Enrichment of Gifted Minority Students’ Learning

Project Excite

Project Excite, a program of the Center for Talent Development that provides sustained enrichment to Evanston gifted minority students through eighth grade, is seeing success on many fronts. The 12-year-old collaboration with Evanston school districts provides classes on Saturdays and during the summer.

To begin with, test scores and honors placements tell a positive tale. Over the past 10 years, from third to eighth grade Project Excite students showed an average 60-point gain in Illinois State Achievement Test (ISAT) reading scores and a 76-point gain in mathematics, enabling them to meet or slightly exceed the average scores of white students in the district. In addition, 70 percent of Project Excite students complete one or two years of high school math before the ninth grade.

Recently the program has added new initiatives to increase student learning. These include family events as well as partnerships at Northwestern, weekly tutoring and library programs.

Parent involvement

Because of the importance of parent involvement for students’ learning, Project Excite is starting a parent committee that will provide parent education and workshops — on topics from college preparation to how to support gifted students. “It’s a family effort. Parents play a huge role in how successful the students will be,” says Kourtney Cockrell, coordinator for Project Excite.

For the first time, Project Excite hosted a Parent Committee Family Social for all families of third to 12th graders on April 22. More than 150 people attended. The event featured a panel of successful black men who shared their experiences of  excelling in sports while keeping academics a top priority.

Panelists were Chance Carter, a Northwestern sophomore and football player who is a member of the first cohort of Project Excite students; Sylvester Willis, an engineer with GE and former basketball player at Southern Illinois University; and Timi Wusu, a third-year medical student at Northwestern and former NFL player. “The family event was a powerful moment for the Excite community to come together to hear from impressive and inspirational black men who defy the unfortunate and negative stereotypes that persist in society,” notes Cockrell.

Northwestern partnerships

Project Excite is also continuing to partner with Northwestern departments. For example, the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Northwestern hosts third-, fourth- and sixth-grade Excite students on campus. Students recently learned about various aspects of earth and planetary science including global warming, climate change, craters, planets and more.

“The goal is exposure — to show kids what you can do from a career standpoint,” says Cockrell.

A new partnership is with the Northwestern student organization Design For America (DFA). “Our 6th graders met with students from DFA to work on a team-building project in November … and we're hoping to continue this next year,” says Cockrell. The students brainstormed about ways to solve issues in the community such as reducing trash in school and keeping food safer in cafeterias and restaurants. In a team-building effort, students discussed how to work in a team and thought critically about their role on the team


A tutoring program is an ongoing effort, with 35 Northwestern undergraduate and graduate students coming together every Thursday to provide one-on-one tutoring to students from District 65. Most students are from Excite, but tutoring is offered to all District 65 students.

Library program

For a third summer, Evanston Public Library will provide reading enrichment to Project Excite fifth graders during the summer. Last year the library partnered with the Evanston Bike Club to give each student a recycled bike if he or she completed the program. Kids read a book about cycling and then learned about bike maintenance. “We're hoping to do the same program this summer. Our kids absolutely loved it and we saw an increase in our students visiting the library on their own,” says Cockrell.

The school year is coming to a close, but student learning keeps moving along for Project Excite.

Photo caption:
Project Excite students work on a team building exercise with Northwestern students in Design for America.

By Marilyn Sherman
Last Modified: 9/29/16