The safety net provided by S.P.A.R.K.S. (Students Participating in Academics and Recreation for Knowledge and Success), part of the U.S. Department of Education’s 21st Century Community Learning Centers project, has caught thousands of students in Clare and Gladwin counties, keeping them from failing or dropping out. Within a school-community framework, kids attend school, feel good about it, and participate with their families in fun, interesting and educational activities during and after school.
Michigan Nightlight: In your view, what makes your program innovative, effective or remarkable?
S.P.A.R.K.S. Project Director Joseph Trommater:
The biggest thing that drives us is being able to make all of our decisions based on what’s best for kids. In any agency when government is involved there’s red tape, but our flexibility allows us to do what’s best for kids without having to bow to the red tape too much.The biggest thing that drives us is being able to make all of our decisions based on what’s best for kids.
What was the best lesson learned in the past year?
That’s a good one. I guess the best one is patience. We had lots of turmoil in the last year with federal funding for our program being cut for all of Michigan, and we had the patience to go with grant funding and it paid off. We received the funding. Even though the waiting was excruciating at times. It was over half of the sites in the state that were up for renewal and were not funded so it was very competitive and the priorities were given to schools on a certain list for not making adequate yearly progress.
What was the hardest lesson learned in the past year?
That would be same one. That wasn’t as painful a lesson as having to compromise and not try to ask for too much. Our original intentions were to try and expand our program into other cities that don’t have afterschool programs. We were forced to do away with those plans and to take a step back when we really wanted to take a step forward and help more students. It was a really hard decision to make.
What really differentiates this program?
A lot of times programs like these are looked at as separate, maybe not important or necessary, but we are seen as part of community and as a true academic and social support for these students and families.
The way it’s organized and viewed by the community. It’s considered an integral part of what the school does and not a separate entity. A lot of times programs like these are looked at as separate, maybe not important or necessary, but we are seen as part of community and as a true academic and social support for these students and families.
What are the keys to success for your program?
The biggest key is putting kids first and doing what’s best for kids and not necessarily what’s best for adults, and another key is being very careful with every monetary decision that’s made and figuring out how to do everything we can with the monetary resources we’ve got.
What are people in your program most inspired by?
It’s definitely individual success stories with our high school programs. I just heard someone talk about seeing a certain kid walk across the stage for graduation, and how much that meant and how great that feels. We look very seriously and closely at data behind the program and measure results, but it’s those individual stories that motivate people.