Nurturing Emerging Talent in K-2 Students (2020-2021)


More than 30 years ago, American writer, futurist and businessman Alvin Toffler asserted that the United States leads modern society in its stride toward an information sphere, or a “Third Wave” civilization. To maintain and promote this leadership status among the world’s nations, he and others asserted that the United States must develop a continuous flow of highly qualified, information-age individuals and communities.

However, students in today’s United States face a significant achievement gap. By the age of 17, the average black student is four years behind the average white student, and black twelfth-graders score lower than white eight-graders in reading, math, history and geography. Achievement is also dramatically lower among youth from other racial minority groups (Asian Americans excluded) and youth from families with low socioeconomic backgrounds.

The highly capable students of today are likely to become the intellectual, cultural, technological, financial, social and scientific leaders of tomorrow, and the nation cannot afford to forfeit a single high-achieving or gifted child. Nonetheless, the persistent racial achievement gap indicates that many children with untapped potential of particular backgrounds are left behind.

Given that racial minorities are projected to comprise roughly 40 percent of the U.S. population by 2030, addressing low achievement for this group should be considered a national crisis, particularly if the U.S. is to remain at the forefront of social and technological innovation.

Project Description

This project team will implement the Nurturing Emerging Talent (NET) mode of instruction to students in kindergarten through second grade and assess how this model contributes to higher achievement outcomes, particularly for students from racial minority or socioeconomically disadvantaged populations.

The NET model seeks to transform the classroom environment into differentiated problem-solving centers that increase the background knowledge of all students so they can meet challenging performance tasks. Ultimately, this model is designed to enable students to understand and apply advanced critical and creative thinking.

In Summer 2020, teachers will participate in training sessions to learn how to deploy the NET model in a summer school setting and nurture high achievement in diverse student populations. At the same time, parents will be given a set of summer enrichment activities to do with their children.

Working directly with the administration of the Chapel Hill school system, team members will collect survey data from teacher training sessions and follow students’ progress throughout the academic year. The team will measure whether the change in achievement during the school year is greater for youth whose parents used the summer enrichment activities than those whose students did not take part in the summer program. Increases in student achievement will also be assessed using school assessments normally administered through the school system. Finally, team members will assess changes to staff disposition using surveys administered prior to the training and at the end of the school year.

Anticipated Outputs

Original dataset; public website; pilot plan for scaling up NET model in summer school camps in U.S. and abroad; peer-reviewed publications


Summer 2020 – Spring 2021

  • Summer 2020 (optional): Complete NET instructional training; complete IRB approvals; refine and administer surveys; support summer camp classroom activities
  • Fall 2020: Administer additional surveys; collect and analyze data
  • Spring 2021: Finalize data analysis; provide follow-up to summer camp participants


Image: Local school roof dedication ceremony, by Staff Sgt. Travis Edwards/U.S. Air Force


Team Leaders

  • Angel Harris, Arts & Sciences-Sociology

/undergraduate Team Members

  • /undergraduate
  • Stephanie Green

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

  • Jennifer Wellberg, Duke Temporary Services

/zcommunity Team Members

  • Chapel Hill-Carrboro Public School System
  • Camille House, Chapel Hill Carrboro Schools, Gifted Programs and Elementary STEM
  • Jessica O'Donovan, Chapel Hill Carrboro Schools, Instructional Services