Thursday, July 30, 2009

It's About Professional Growth

This was a great week of the year for all of us at SPARK. We just finished hosting our K-2 and 3-6 physical education Institutes and meeting approximately 100 passionate educators from around the globe. Since 1995, SPARK has been facilitating these professional growth opportunities for individuals whose districts are either too small, too poor, or too poorly prioritized to bring a SPARK trainer to them. Institutes provide the opportunity for people to come to SPARK -- and we love it.

While we do our best to limit each program focus to the first 40 people to register, we usually invite a number of special guests to observe, and they may swell our numbers to 50 or more. This year, we entertained people from India, China, Canada, Australia and myriad cities and towns across the U.S. Personally, I think learning about physical education in other countries is fascinating. For example, in China, children start preschool at age 3 and don't begin at the elementary school until age 6 or 7 -- missing what we call Kindergarten, and beginning in first grade. In India, almost everyone speaks English, and our SPARK books don't have to be translated for teachers there. What we refer to as Standards in the U.S., are known as Outcomes in Canada. And Canadian funding for education comes only from provincial money, not from the federal government, therefore, each province writes their own outcomes. By the way, SPARK has already aligned with Alberta, Ontario and Saskatchewan outcomes and they're posted on our website Here.

In the evenings, we have a place selected for people to meet, eat, and socialize with our SPARK staff. While it's definitely about having fun in the sun in San Diego and meeting new friends, SPARK Institutes are designed so each person receives the best possible physical education workshop -- and learns SPARK's unique content and instructional methodology. Our specially selected, fantastic trainers (this week it was Courtney Sjoerdsma and Ken McFadden for K-2; Julie Green and Joan Gillem for 3-6) inspire and motivate everyone, often taking the skeptical and converting them into our most enthusiastic advocates. And, each person leaves with a thorough understanding of SPARK and all training, materials, and support they need to begin "practicing" the craft with their students right away.

We encourage these newly formed professional families to stay in touch with us and one another, and we facilitate that via email distribution lists, our monthly e-newsletter, and the opportunity to visit SPARK again for another Institute in the future. For the people that attended the Level I K-2 and 3-6 last week, they're ready now for Level II Institute next year, or whenever they're ready to see us again.

If YOU haven't attended a SPARK Institute yet, I highly recommend it. I don't know anyone who didn't think it was a terrific experience and well worth their time and money.
Hope to see YOU in San Diego next year!

-Paul Rosengard

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

It was 20 years ago today!

In August 1989 the SPARK study began, with funding from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Our goal was to create a national model of physical education designed to respond to children’s health needs. We wanted to not only get kids active, but “turn them on” to activity and build the physical and behavior-change competencies they needed to remain active and healthy.

Twenty years later, I can say we succeeded beyond my wildest expectations! The SPARK and M-SPAN studies provided some of the evidence that led The Community Guide to strongly recommend enhanced physical education as an evidence-based intervention. We now have a suite of physical activity and school health programs to help young people remain active. There is a network of talented trainers across the country who provide hundreds of enthusiastically-received trainings every year. We have shown that when teachers learn to use SPARK, they keep using it for years. Most importantly, well over 1 million children benefit from SPARK every day. I often say SPARK is the most fulfilling experience of my career.

Of course, I was just a catalyst for what SPARK has become. Thom McKenzie is the architect who built a fabulous program. Paul Rosengard is the mastermind behind the blossoming of SPARK into a powerful force for improving health throughout the nation (and hopefully, soon, the world). It is a rare combination of skills to go from being an award-winning coach to a PE innovator to directing the phenomenal growth of SPARK, while maintaining quality and our strong reputation the whole time.

Recently, the SPARK staff and the master trainers got together to celebrate SPARK’s 20th birthday. It was a special occasion for me for many reasons. I really enjoyed paying tribute to Thom, Paul, and all the fabulous staff. It was a special treat to recognize SPARK employee numero uno, Kecia Carrasco. She was number one then, and she is number one now. We are all blessed that she is still devoting her considerable talents to SPARK. And it wouldn’t have been a SPARK party without a lot of fun activities. The master trainers led us in 3 great dances under the California sun, and I hope you get a chance to see some of the video.

With all that the SPARK team has accomplished, it is not nearly enough. While SPARK was growing, so was the obesity epidemic. It is very fortunate that we created some solutions for this problem, because concern about childhood obesity is certainly driving much of the interest in what we can provide. But still most schools do not have evidence-based activity-focused physical education. Most after-school, preschool, and recreation programs are not active enough. We have much more to do. But “with a little help from our friends” we will “come together” and SPARK the “revolution” that is needed to get every child active so they can be healthier and happier.

Jim Sallis

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

This ATM Isn’t About Money

Nope – this ATM is the SPARK Annual Trainers Meeting and it’s one of those special things that sets SPARK apart from other organizations. Each year, SPARK brings its top trainers to San Diego for 2+ days of professional and personal growth. The professional comes from constantly striving to improve SPARK workshop agendas, powerpoints, and facilitation techniques. The personal from the friendships that grow when terrific people gather because of a shared passion for children and teaching.

SPARK is a training organization at heart, because we know from research that the most efficacious of what we refer to as the “essential components” (i.e., curriculum, staff development, follow up support, and equipment) is the teacher training. And, if you can change (for the better) the way a teacher teaches, then you have a chance to impact many children over time. So, SPARK invests to find the best presenters, train them well, and support their ongoing development.

Each SPARK program (Early Childhood, After School, Physical Education K-2, 3-6, Middle and High school, and Coordinated School Health) has a Lead Trainer. The Lead Trainers mentor their flock and gather feedback on how to improve their program’s content, instruction, and equipment lists.

Trainers begin as novices and once they complete an extensive training program, they can advance to Certified, Master, and Elite levels. Today, SPARK is proud to have more than a dozen trainers with over a decade worth of experience conducting SPARK workshops. And in this case, experience matters.

So, the next time you’re ready to deposit or withdraw money from your ATM, think about our ATM. Yours might have a lot of cash stored inside, but ours is priceless.

-Paul Rosengard