Spark!: an early start on work experience
A spark from an Experiential Learning Task Force in 2014 lit the fire for a new learning opportunity for students. Director of Choice Programs Jennifer Stanfill joined a group of teachers, community members, industry partners and administrators to recommend the outset of a personal and career development course, Spark! Nine years later, the program upholds its mission.
“The goal was to allow students to engage in authentic learning. The vision for the Spark! program was to provide students with opportunities to understand and respond to the challenges of an ever-changing world through their experiences in real-world, industry-based learning,” Stanfill said.
According to Stanfill, Spark! application numbers grew by approximately 15% in the past three years for each of the seven strands: bioscience, engineering, incubator, pre-professional health sciences academy, sports medicine, teaching and learning and technology solutions. With 324 2022-2023 school year applications, 247 students were accepted. The application process takes place on a Google form sent by administrators to student emails. Since the first go-around, Stanfill has received positive feedback from students, parents and industry members. Class of 2015 alumni Blaine Thomas is grateful to Stanfill for investing her time into his high school career.
“The personal and professional development that I had in Spark! was indeed a blessing in my future. I learned valuable lessons that have led me to college scholarships, meaningful professional relationships and ultimately, a job that I am ecstatic to start in June,” Thomas said.
Made up of seven strands, Stanfill believes Spark! is a beneficial path for various fields of interest. Students choose the Spark! strand they apply to as they think it will best fit their professional growth.
“Spark! is a great opportunity to apply the knowledge and skills you gained in your home high school classes. It provides students with opportunities to develop essential professional skills, network with industry and community members and test-drive a career area of their choice,” Stanfill said. “Our students are doing real-world projects for industry partners, shadowing and observing professionals, and accessing a deeper understanding of how their skills can be used in future careers.”