College of Education and Human Development - George Mason University

Project ExCEL to Help Identify Low-Income, High-Potential Students

October 30, 2014

Anne Horak, Project ExCEL Coordinator

Like baseball scouts looking to identify and nurture talented young ball players, a group of professors at George Mason University is intent on finding low-income students who have the potential to hit academic homeruns.

"Many gifted students from culturally and economically diverse backgrounds don't get identified with current practices, especially in secondary school," said Anne Horak, PhD, of George Mason's College of Education and Human Development. "And so often the chance to nurture their potential is lost."

A new $2.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education will fund George Mason's work on Project ExCEL (Experiences Cultivating Exceptional Learning) to address this issue. The grant is for $500,000 a year for each of five years.

"One of the goals of this project is to provide middle school students with learning experiences that offer them the opportunity to demonstrate attributes of giftedness in a way that might not otherwise be captured," said Horak. "We are trying to make sure this talent has the opportunity to flourish."

The project will involve more than 35 seventh and eighth grade teachers in nine middle schools across two states.

"We're excited about this opportunity to determine how Problem-Based Learning can be used as a platform to both identify and serve low-income gifted students who are traditionally underrepresented in gifted education programs," said Professor Beverly D. Shaklee.


Photo courtesy of Fairfax County Public Schools.


Student achievement will be compared to a control group of gifted students. The project will examine the effectiveness of using an engaging learning experience to identify potential for giftedness and on students' test performance in English/Language Arts. The project also will measure students' appreciation for complex knowledge, sense of academic self-efficacy, and engagement in learning.

The project is coordinated in close collaboration with two of Northern Virginia's world-class school systems, Fairfax County Public Schools and Arlington Public Schools. For the first year, the George Mason team will work with students and teachers at Carl Sandburg Middle School in Alexandria, Virginia.

Project ExCEL is funded by the Jacob Javits Gifted and Talented Education program within the U.S. Department of Education.


About CEHD

George Mason University's College of Education and Human Development (CEHD) includes two schools: the Graduate School of Education, one of the most comprehensive education schools in Virginia, and the School of Recreation, Health, and Tourism. CEHD offers a full range of courses, certificates, and degree programs on campus, online, and on site to more than 4,000 students each year. CEHD is fully accredited by NCATE and all licensure programs are approved by the Virginia Department of Education. George Mason University, located just outside of Washington, DC, is Virginia's largest public research university.

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