NCREL: North Central Regional Education Laboratory
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Snapshot | Behind the Scenes | A Day in the Life


Interview | Timeline | Program Staff

Early in 1999, a team of teachers piloted a summer program that laid the foundation for the Sparks After-School Program. Their goals were to help students with homework and increase students' interest in school. They used the immediate feedback of the summer school staff to refine their goals and establish a management style. Once the school year started, staff focused on recruitment. They spoke at back-to-school night, visited classrooms, and sent registration forms home, seeking students and parents to participate in the program. Staff members also attended conferences and met other after-school providers to steep themselves in after-school strategies.

Trial and Error
The program was up and running and the staff fine-tuned the design of the program. In the beginning, when students arrived, they started with a physical activity, but then it proved difficult to collect everyone and settle down into homework. Homework help moved up on the schedule, making it the first priority of the afternoon. During this stage, the staff also began meeting monthly to discuss staffing, communication, and training.

Now in its second year, the program is working well, achieving its goals, and growing quickly. Other schools in the district look to Sparks as a model. Staff members are focused on managing the program's growth while also expanding the enrichment offerings to attract new students. With a bigger program, staff and leadership needs are evolving. Sparks continues to receive federal funding for a 21st Century Community Learning Center, which is channeled through an independent agency. This allows staff to make program and staffing decisions independent of the school district.