The Wisconsin Center for Academically Talented Youth

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Wisconsin Center for Academically Talented Youth (WCATY, pronounced WI-kuh-tee) is a non-profit organization based in Madison, Wisconsin, with classes throughout the state. For over twenty years, the Wisconsin Center for Academically Talented Youth (WCATY) has been the only statewide, year-round organization in Wisconsin dedicated to serving gifted students. WCATY works to create communities focused on students' talents and passions while also satisfying the requirements of educational systems interested in assessing student growth.

Created by Dr. Ellie Schatz in 1991, WCATY hosted its first summer program in 1992. A variety of programs are offered, including intensive courses during the summer and year round internet-based courses through WCATY Academy. WCATY strives to offer programs throughout the rural, urban, and suburban communities of Wisconsin, as access to programs and opportunities is a cornerstone of WCATY values. The Academy (District Co-ops) partners with over 100 public and private school districts, bringing challenging curriculum to students where gifted educational resources are scarce. In 2014, summer program students came from 114 different Wisconsin communities, 13 different states, and 4 different countries. Access to programs also means a WCATY commitment to providing scholarships and fee waivers for bright students who need support. Talent exists among all groups, and WCATY is dedicated to identifying and serving a broad and diverse pool of students in communities throughout the state.

The WCATY model focuses on developing higher-level thinking skills and is rooted in a research-based “Professional Identities” pedagogy that allows students to tackle difficult problems as a field professional would. Our Learning Goals and professional identities model that we call the “Modes of Engagement” align directly to Common Core State Standards and can be tracked from program to program and course to course as the student grows through the WCATY community. WCATY uses multiple outcome measures, student and faculty evaluations, parent input, and research-based practices to maintain an overriding focus on quality.

WCATY is accredited through NCA-CASI.[1] WCATY is the Wisconsin affiliate for Midwest Academic Talent Search, through which students take out of level tests to qualify for programs or courses.

Mission Statement

WCATY, a University of Wisconsin - Madison outreach program in the School of Education, is an inclusive community of academically talented youth supported by educators, UW researchers, and advocates who recognize and cultivate students’ potential. As an expression of the Wisconsin Idea, WCATY extends support to public school districts, learning communities, and families throughout the state and beyond. WCATY creates a culture of learning where students can choose challenge and engage in authentic opportunities.

Summer Programs

Accelerated Learning Program

The Accelerated Learning Program [2] was originally held on the campus of University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire, followed by the campus of Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin, St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin, and most recently the University of Wisconsin–Madison. This program serves gifted high school students, offering enrichment courses at the college level. Courses taken during these three weeks may be eligible for their equivalent high school credits, depending on the student's home district.

The Accelerated Learning Program gives gifted high school students the chance to learn and live alongside each other on the beautiful UW-Madison campus. ALP is an intense, three-week summer camp designed to push students to the next academic level while housing them in an intimate learning environment. Students enroll in a single course for an in-depth experience not possible in crowded high school schedules. Students gain insight from instructors who are experts in their fields. Above all, ALP students are carefully selected to cultivate an optimal learning environment where gifted students can interact, learn, and grow with each other.

While the academics are rigorous at ALP, they account for only a portion of the camp experience. A wide variety of organized activities and ample free time allows for students to explore new interests and make lasting friendships with other students who share their enthusiasm and gift for learning.

Summer Transitional Education Program

The Summer Transitional Education Program is for students in the middle school years. Lasting only two weeks, it allows students an educational enrichment experience with a group of gifted peers. This program was designed to transition students more smoothly between the Young Students Summer Program and the Accelerated Learning Program, and has been held at Edgewood College in Madison, Wisconsin, and Beloit College in Beloit, Wisconsin. The Summer Transitional Program is currently held on the UW- Madison campus.

The Summer Transitional Enrichment Program (STEP) gives an opportunity for students, who are finishing grades 7-8, to spend two weeks on a college campus studying one accelerated course. STEP is designed to engage, intellectually challenge, and inspire. It offers a learning atmosphere that nurtures students' talents and abilities, enriches social life, and encourages creativity. WCATY strives to balance the academic and recreational sides of camp. This program is for those who are ready for above grade level challenge and are serious about having fun in and outside of the classroom with peers who share similar aspirations and interests.

Preparatory Academic Campus Experience

This program gives current 5th through 8th grade students an opportunity to explore their current interests and passions with like-minded peers in a college setting. Students will spend one week taking one accelerated course designed specifically for middle school advanced learners on the UW-Madison campus. This program is designed to engage, intellectually challenge, and inspire young minds. Not only will you explore the area of study in your class, you will have the opportunity to spark your curiosity during on-campus field trips during the week.

Young Students Summer Program

The Young Students Summer Program is for talented and gifted students in grades four through six, and lasts just one week. This program has been held at Beloit College in Beloit, Wisconsin.

Young Students Summer Program classes are fast-paced and cover a great amount of material. Our philosophy is that students completing grades 4-6 need to learn about the many different avenues open to their curious minds. Each class is small and designed to enrich learning and introduce new disciplines, helping students expand their knowledge about the world and discover how much there truly is to learn. As students adjust to the summer camp atmosphere, they gain personal independence and connect with other bright students on a deeper level.


The Growing Early Minds classes, created for students in 2nd through 4th grade, are designed to challenge and engage advanced learners in grades two through four. Students will be exposed to advanced concepts and themes that feed their curious minds. Each class is small and designed to enrich learning and introduce new areas of interest, helping students expand their knowledge about the world and discover how much there truly is to learn. Social and emotional curriculum components will focus on fostering autonomy, encouraging development of growth mindset, and developing effective collaboration skills. GEM offers sessions during the summer, as well as on Saturdays during the year. 

Year round programs

Throughout the year the center coordinates various enrichment programs and courses.

The Academy

WCATY’s Academy, created for grades 5-8, provides online classes that replace a quarter of language arts, history, science or math curriculum in over 75 districts (see our resume). The integrated curriculum begins with complex, real world problems that students dig into by discussing big questions; reading fiction and non-fiction texts; writing persuasive, informative, and creative works; and interacting with other eager minds.

Often the highlight of the course, students also participate in face-to-face meetings where they build community and participate in hands-on explorations. Instructors provide regular, personalized feedback throughout the week to students. Instructors typically spend eight to ten hours in each class each week. Our assessment system focuses on documenting growth and helping students reflect upon their own learning. Schools receive a midterm and final report which includes reading, writing and interaction grades, as well as a detailed description of student growth.

Typically Academy students are in the top 5% of a school’s population. Areas in which Academy students are most often identified as high-ability include academics, creativity, and leadership. Students are nominated by school personnel to participate in the WCATY Academy.

Project A Missions

In a Project Academy four week mission, created for grades 5-8, students are project managers in charge of selecting, planning, revising and reflecting upon their plan of work. In week one, students jump into action selecting a problem from a range of inquiry options. Once selected, students make a plan of work, join an interest group, and add to the class-wide discussion about overarching issues. After four weeks of researching their problem and crafting a product, students use group and instructor feedback to prepare their project to be displayed in the school-wide showcase. Throughout the experience, instructors provide regular, personalized feedback focused on documenting growth. Schools and parents receive a final report which includes planning, interaction, and writing or reading grades as well as a detailed description of student growth. Project A is designed for students passionate about the topic and interested in testing the waters of online learning. As a Tier Two option, Project A missions are meant to extend the learning happening in core curriculum areas.

Smart Spaces

WCATY builds on the assets of students, families, schools, districts, communities, and University of Wisconsin to support “Smart Spaces”, created for grades 6-7, where academically advanced students from low-income settings have increased opportunities to develop their talents in challenging and innovative ways. Two issues illustrate the opportunity gap in gifted education: (a) the persistent underidentification of gifted students from particular populations, namely students of color from historically underrepresented groups, low-income settings, bilingual families, and students with disabilities; and, (b) a lack of resources available at both the school and district level to provide accessible and high-quality programming once students are identified as gifted. These issues for underrepresented gifted students are well-documented and play a critical role in the larger achievement gap facing the K–12 public school systems (Castellano et al, 2003; Diaz, 2002; Grantham et al., 2011; Peters et al., 2013; Plucker et al., 2010; and Resnick & Goodman, 1997). The opportunity gap for underrepresented gifted students threatens to widen in a context where many schools have decreasing resources with which to meet the needs of their student population. This can leave schools and communities with decreased capacity to provide consistent opportunities for academic rigor to their brightest students.This is the need Smart Spaces is designed to address.

Girls in Science

Girls in Science was open to females entering middle school (grades 6-8) and was hosted at University of Wisconsin–La Crosse. It is no longer offered through WCATY, but continues to run as a Community Outreach program for youth through the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.

Young Scholar Program

The Young Scholar Program paired talent identified 7th and 8th graders with mentors in a field of the students interest. This program was grounded in Dr. Schatz' work on pairing gifted students with mentors.[3] Generally held in September, the Young Scholar Fair served as a project showcase for what students have accomplished while working with their mentors. This program is no longer offered with WCATY.

Harlan O. Roberson Poetry Award

This poetry contest was administered by WCATY each March and had a cash prize. Submissions were accepted from high school age students, but this program is no longer offered.

Math 24

WCATY works with WATG (Wisconsin Association for Talented and Gifted) to host a math competition at UW-Madison called, "Math 24."

University Connections

WCATY is currently partnered with the following groups and organizations: University of Wisconsin at Madison Education, Outreach, and Partnerships (EOP) in the School of Education Wisconsin Association for Talented and Gifted (WATG) National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC)


  1. Institution Summary, AdvancED, Retrieved 2012-07-08
  2. "Accelerated Learning Program." Accelerated Learning Program. WCATY, 2012. Web. 24 Oct. 2012.
  3. Schatz, Ellie (1999), "Mentors: Matchmaking for young people.", Journal of Secondary Gifted Education (US: Prufrock Press) 11 (2): 67–87 .

External links

Official website