SPARKS to continue thanks to five year $675k grant

In its 14-year history, the SPARKS program has served more than 2,500 local students. Thanks to the leadership of some hardworking local educators, that trend will continue for the next five years.

Staff at the Clare-Gladwin Regional Education Service District, which oversees the program that is free to students and their families, recently received word of renewed funding in the amount of $675,000 per year for the next five years that will allow SPARKS to continue.

In addition to classroom help and marked improvements in attendance and grade-point average, field trips are an important part of the SPARKS curriculum.

In addition to classroom help and marked improvements in attendance and grade-point average, field trips are an important part of the SPARKS curriculum.

“SPARKS, or Students Participating in Academics and Recreation for Knowledge and Success, is an afterschool and summer school program,” said SPARKS Project Director Rebecca Idzikowski. “It was created in 2003 with federal funding from the 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant through the Michigan Department of Education. The program’s mission hasn’t changed – academic support and enrichment activities for students, many of whom are at risk of low achievement.”

Working with several other community partners, including MSU Extension in Clare, Gladwin and Midland Counties, the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts, SPARKS helped 352 students last year. Idzikowski said that whatever people might think they know about SPARKS, they probably don’t have the whole story.

“We focus on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM), literacy, family education and community involvement,” she said. “Our kids enjoy a safe, inspiring learning environment with programming that has been proven to boost school attendance and academic performance. SPARKS fills an essential need for these students.”

CGRESD Superintendent Sheryl Presler, who led the grant writing team that secured that original funding 14 years ago, said this latest grant is the result of intense effort on the part of her staff.

“Forty organizations in the state of Michigan alone applied for this federal grant,” Presler said. “Ours was one of seven in the state that received funding. Our staff worked tirelessly on this grant because we believe so strongly in its benefits, and it’s a feather in our cap to receive this amount of funding when the competition for limited dollars was so intense.”

When school starts in the next few weeks, SPARKS will provide afterschool programming at six sites: Beaverton Elementary, Clare Primary, Farwell Elementary, Coleman K-8, Meridian Elementary and Larson and Hillside Elementaries in Harrison. Idzikowski said the SPARKS staff is relieved to have the funding process out of the way and ready to tackle the new school year.

“At its best, SPARKS’ federal and local goals focus on increasing academic achievement, expanding student learning in non-academic areas, targeting the lowest achieving students, promoting student attendance, strengthening community involvement, increasing family education and participation and providing a wide range of expanded enrichment opportunities,” she said. “SPARKS’ goals reflect outcomes that are achievable, yet higher than federal targets. And we do all that while providing a snack and dinner each night, transportation, field trip opportunities and more, all at no cost to students or their families.”

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