The SPARKZ! program developed out of discussions held in the fall of 2015 between local foundations and inspirational teachers in the school district as to how local philanthropy could strengthen the efforts already taking place in the educational arena. Teachers noted that kids need to find a strong interest or passion by the 8th grade or it becomes difficult for them to stay interested in learning and for teachers to build relationships through the kids’ interest. There are many kids who struggle socially, emotionally or haven’t been able to actively participate in learning due a number of reasons and “fade into the background or fall through the cracks.” Teachers brainstormed ideas on how they could use their autonomy and creativity to reach kids during the summer in a meaningful, fun and less stressful environment than a classroom.
SPARKZ! is a free 2-week summer exploratory learning program offered to students entering 7th and 8th grades. The program is held at the Anderson Center and is led by teachers from the school district with high school students who also serve as mentors and role models. The curriculum is designed using themes to link academic concepts with fun experiences. One example is “Crime Week”, which includes a performance of a murder mystery, forensics, blood typing, and a mock trial – incorporating arts and language, math, science, social studies and history concepts. Community resources such as the police department, a local judge, legislators and many others participated and brought the themes into “real life”.