SPARK Summit County: Making Education Fun

Dina Younis \
June 03, 2014

A month before graduating from SPARK and beginning kindergarten, four-year- old Shalaya demonstrates how to wave her arms and move her shoulders just like the animals from her favorite book. With guidance from the SPARK program, Shalaya’s mother has made reading with her child a priority and knows how to make education fun.

A program of Greenleaf Family Center, Supporting Partnerships to Assure Ready Kids (SPARK) is a home based education initiative for three and four-year- olds in targeted Akron Public School neighborhoods.  The program helps to prepare children for kindergarten by addressing educational, developmental and social emotional needs, while empowering parents and guardians to become their child’s first and most important teacher.

SPARK professionals, also known as parent partners, emphasize the importance of early learning and active participation in the home prior to kindergarten through a comprehensive, monthly home-visitation model.

For Tosha, a busy mom with little patience, the home visits leave her feeling inspired to engage with her child. “She gives me ideas I hadn’t thought of,” she said of her SPARK representative, Carol.  This can mean many things, including practicing with flashcards, going to the library, or reading together at home.

In addition to prescribed, individualized home visits complete with activities, free books, and supplies, SPARK also offers group learning opportunities, responsive services, screenings, and assessments for the families.

Both Shalaya and her mother look forward to reading together following the SPARK home-visits. Her favorite book, From Head to Toe teaches her about animals, enhances her motor skills, and gets her moving – something she loves to do.

SPARK began as a five year initiative and has grown to 19 sites in nine counties in the state of Ohio with Greenleaf offering the only replication site in Summit County.  The local entities collaborating to make SPARK possible in Summit County include Greenleaf Family Center, Kent State University, Summit Education Initiative, and Canton Early Childhood Resource Center, all of whom share a mutual understanding that early experiences matter because nearly one third of children enter kindergarten one and a half years behind their peers.

This is why SPARK utilizes longitudinal evaluation methods by tracking the progress of its participants through the fifth grade. Data indicate that SPARK children consistently outperform their non-SPARK peers on the Kindergarten Readiness Assessment for Literacy since 2005.

This June, Shalaya will wrap up her year in kindergarten and Tosha can attest to the success of the program by noting a difference in her child academically. Shalaya’s favorite part about kindergarten? Why, making new friends of course!

For more information about the SPARK program, visit www.greenleafctr.org or call 330.376.9494.

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