Before we had an after-school program, we had students who wouldn't leave school in the afternoon. They weren't doing their homework, and they were doing poorly in school. They needed lots of guidance and structure. We saw this as a window of opportunity: We would use after-school time to build skills and help students get their homework done in a structured way. And we decided to start small.
One of Sparks' biggest assets is that it is designed and run by our own classroom teachers. If a math teacher notices basic skills lagging during the school day, that teacher can provide one-on-one homework help after school or run a math-learning game. Many of our activities begin with a teacher's or student's interest. Suddenly school becomes this place where you get to do things, not just where you have to do things, and where students are comfortable asking questions when they don't understand something.
After a year in Sparks, students who were failing and who used to hang around the hallways at the end of the day have better attendance and grades. Their attitudes are changing, too. They're really proud of themselves. Their parents are proud of them. They're developing better relationships with their peers and teachers, and they tell us they would rather be at Sparks than go home and watch TV. It's been a complete turnaround.