Funded by a 2010 Investing in Innovation grant awarded by the Department of Education, SPARK is a multi-faceted program designed to improve reading and literacy skills for Club members in grades K-3. Combining in-school tutoring, after-school support and family engagement, this implementation of SPARK serves as a shining example of the Boys & Girls Club approach to supporting academic achievement for the kids who need us most.
In the evaluation, conducted by the Office of Socially Responsible Evaluation in Education at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, SPARK participants demonstrated significant growth in reading achievement, literacy and regular school attendance. Specifically, the evaluation found:
- 62 percent of SPARK participants who started below grade level met literacy standards at the end of the two-year intervention - compared to only 10 percent of nonparticipants. SPARK had the most positive impact for students who began the program with the greatest need for literacy instruction.
- SPARK students had significantly higher levels of school attendance and were 27 percent less likely to be chronically absent from school compared to students who did not participate in SPARK.
This project also exemplifies how Clubs can lead community efforts and deliver effective solutions to improve academic outcomes for young people. In this instance, the Greater Milwaukee Club worked in close partnership with Milwaukee Public Schools. Schools often struggle to find the time and resources to provide additional support for their lowest performing students, so Club employees worked one-on-one with students at school, during the school day. Incorporating after-school tutoring and family engagement efforts, this wrap-around strategy effectively supported early literacy growth.
Most recognized reading interventions rely on certified teachers. This implementation model is an innovative twist and reinforces the critical role Boys & Girls Clubs can play as bridges between school, home and the community.
Dr. Damon A. Williams is Senior Vice President of Program, Training & Youth Development for BGCA.