July 3, 2013

SPARK Ohio celebrates a milestone with continued expansion and state recognition

This year marks the 10-year anniversary of SPARK Ohio (Supporting Partnerships to Assure Ready Kids), a highly effective, family-focused intervention program that helps get children ready for kindergarten. The Sisters of Charity Foundation of Canton’s collaborations with schools and community partners have led to a combined $13 million investment, which has helped more than 3,500 Ohio families to date.

Reaching a 10-year milestone is quite exciting for the program, because it was originally designed as only a five-year initiative. “What began in two communities in Stark County has grown to 12 targeted neighborhoods in six counties,” says SPARK Ohio Director Shana Rozier. “We certainly exceeded the original plans, and now we have increasing interest from libraries, too!” New replication sites are also under way in Columbus and in three rural Ohio communities.

One reason for the continued growth is the compelling results. Research found that SPARK children entering kindergarten outperformed their peers, and they retained that advantage through the third grade. Recent Ohio Department of Education results indicate the effects last through fifth grade. “We’re very proud of the fact that the state is paying attention to SPARK and willing to study the program to see how it can help more Ohio children,” added Rozier.

It turns out SPARK is getting more than just attention from legislators. Earlier this year, the state allocated $1.1 million from its federal Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge Grant to expand SPARK programming into three high-need rural Ohio communities. Each participating district will receive funding over two-and-a-half years, along with professional development opportunities and administrative and technical assistance over the grant period. Because of this funding, 300 additional four-year-old children will be more prepared for kindergarten.

The selected schools will also become part of the Ohio Ready Schools Initiative, which aims to develop enduring ties between public school districts, early childhood educators, and the community.

Following a late January request for proposals, the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Canton received 15 grant applications and used an open and competitive selection process in choosing these three communities:

  • A partnership between Franklin Monroe Local and Mississinawa Valley School Districts (Darke County)
  • Logan Elm Local School District (Hocking County)
  • Sandy Valley Local School District (Stark County

The SPARK and Ready Schools model has consistently demonstrated positive outcomes among high-need populations in geographically diverse communities. With this state funding, access to high-quality early learning and development programming will be increased and educators will receive help to improve their credentials, knowledge and skills.

“We have a significant body of evidence demonstrating that this works,” says Rozier. “Now we need to sustain it.”

Find out how you can help sustain SPARK Ohio programming at sparkohio.org.

The Sisters of Charity Foundation of Canton is a ministry of the Sisters of Charity Health System. Read more about the work of the foundation and its partners in the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Canton’s 2012 Annual Report to the Community.

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From its Cleveland headquarters, the Sisters of Charity Health System provides oversight, leadership and strategic direction to more than 20 organizations responding to community needs in Canton and Cleveland, Ohio, and South Carolina.

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