June 23, 2014

New SPARK locations off to a strong start

SPARK (Supporting Partnerships to Assure Ready Kids) expanded to its ninth Ohio county last year with the addition of two elementary schools in Darke County, which is in western Ohio. As reported in The Daily Advocate (Greenville, Ohio), the SPARK program has been well received by educators and parents at both schools.

SPARK is a highly effective, parent-focused kindergarten readiness program that works collaboratively with families, schools and communities.

As seen in The Daily Advocate:

Kindergarten readiness program off to good start

Supporting Partnerships to Assure Ready Kids (SPARK) grants are really about the partnership between the school, the parents and the children; parent partners go into the homes of 4-year-old pre-kindergarten students and work with the student and parents to initiate learning skills.

“It’s a fabulous program,” Elaine Bailey, Mississinawa Valley’s SPARK supervisor. “It puts someone in the home with the child and the parent so that the children are getting ready for kindergarten. It’s all aligned to the Common Core State Standards, and the children receive books each month.”

SPARK is currently being utilized in nine Ohio counties, including two locations in Darke County, Mississinawa Valley Local Schools, and Franklin-Monroe Local Schools, according to sparkohio.org. It is a research-based program, which means that data on the child’s progress is collected through third grade, Bailey explained.

“The [SPARK] children who move into kindergarten, as they take their standardized tests, through third grade, those results are sent to Kent State, where they compare the children who have participated in SPARK and those who haven’t, to learn more about how to improve the program, and whether the program is effective,” Bailey stated.

SPARK is a family-centric intervention program that targets at-risk families in order to help better prepare children for school, Bailey commented.

“The parent partner works with the child in the presence of the parent, so there’s that modeling in terms of how to work with your child at home, and it gives the parents ideas,” Bailey stated. “The children love it, particularly those with older siblings, because they get to spend time with their parents and the parent partner doing school stuff. These little kiddos get really excited about doing school things - they’re actively involved in learning. Anything that looks like what their older siblings are doing is very exciting for them.”

Mississinawa and FM can support 25 4-year-olds per year; though from August to December, Bailey said that there are the 25 kindergarten students who have already gone through SPARK, and the 25 4-year-olds who are beginning the program. SPARK parent partners continue working with the students once they’ve entered kindergarten to ensure a smoother transition, Bailey explained; August will mark the first time with 50 students, as the SPARK program began in Darke County last year, she added.

“From my vantage point, I think it’s gone fabulously. We are serving 25 4-year-olds and their families. Most of those children will be entering kindergarten this fall, and we’re very excited about that,” noted Stephanie Klingshirn, Mississinawa Elementary principal. “We’re doing transition activities so that the transition is smooth and they get off to a really strong start early in the school year.”

Twenty-five children are accepted into each program, she added. Mississinawa will be looking for 25 4-year-old children to participate in the program for the upcoming school year, she said, as will Franklin-Monroe. The children must be entering kindergarten in the fall of 2015, Bailey clarified.

Parents who will have children entering kindergarten in the fall of 2015 at Franklin-Monroe Elementary or Mississinawa Elementary who are interested in getting their child involved with SPARK should contact their local school district for more information.

SPARK began as an initiative of the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Canton in partnership with the W. K. Kellogg Foundation. The program's management and operations were transferred to the Early Childhood Resource Center in 2013. By engaging families and strengthening parents as advocates for their children's sustained success, SPARK has helped more than 4,200 children start school ready to succeed. Schools, community partners and funders have invested more than $13 million dollars in the program to date. By the end of 2014, SPARK is expected to serve 2,000 families annually in 10 Ohio counties.

The Sisters of Charity Foundation of Canton and the Early Childhood Resource Center are ministries of the Sisters of Charity Health System.

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