About Us

SPARK: Countering Childhood Obesity Since 1989

SPARK is a research-based organization of San Diego State University Research Foundation (disseminated by School Specialty, Inc.) dedicated to creating, implementing, and evaluating programs that promote lifelong wellness.

SPARK strives to improve the health of children, adolescents, and adults by disseminating evidence-based Physical Education, After School, Early Childhood, and Coordinated School Health programs to teachers and recreation leaders serving Pre-K through 12th grade students.

Each SPARK Program provides a coordinated package of highly active curriculum, on-site staff development, extensive follow-up support, and expert selected, content-matched equipment.

A Healthy Beginning:

The SPARK team began studying elementary physical education in 1989, and today, the name SPARK represents a collection of exemplary, research-based physical activity/nutrition programs. The original SPARK study was supported by the Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health and San Diego State University.


Numerous refereed publications (over 45 to date) have reported SPARK physical education (PE) program effects, including papers showing evidence of achievement in the following variables (the number refers to the citation listed on the bottom of the page):

  • Physical activity (1, 4, 5, 6)
  • Physical fitness (5)
  • Lesson context and teacher behavior (4)
  • Academic achievement (7)
  • Motor skill development (2)
  • Student enjoyment of the program (3)
  • Adiposity (6)
  • Long term effects/institutionalization (4, 8)
  • Process measures (parent behavior, teacher acceptance of program) (1)

SPARK Physical Education has been selected as the intervention program in many important research studies and cited in the Surgeon General's Report as a “School based solution to our nation’s health care crisis.” In 1993, SPARK PE was validated by the National Diffusion Network of the U.S. Department of Education and earned “Exemplary Program” status. That same year, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Governor Pete Wilson of California presented SPARK with a “Governor’s Commendation” for efforts to improve the health of California’s youth. In 2006, SPARK earned “Gold” rankings for their elementary and middle school PE programs from the Cooper Institute study examining effective U.S. activity and health interventions.

Sharing Good News and Growing:

Following the research phase, the elementary PE program was expanded to focus on dissemination. Over the years, additional research has led to the creation and development of:

  • Early Childhood (ages 3-5)
  • Middle School PE (grades 6-8)
  • After School (ages 5-14)
  • High School PE
  • Ignite a Healthy Environment
  • Wellness for Staff
  • Nutrition Services
  • Health Education
  • SPARKuniversity
  • Classroom Activity and Recess (SPARKabc’s – Activity Break Choices)

SPARK has expert trainers that travel the globe to conduct effective teacher workshops in the SPARK research-based programs.  SPARK Certified Trainers bring SPARK to you, working with a single site, a cluster of sites, or entire districts/cities in an effort to improve the quantity and quality of physical activity/education. SPARK also offers Institutes in the summer to give educators in-depth training in sunny San Diego.

SPARK has trained teachers representing more than 100,000 schools worldwide and facilitated or partnered in more than 20 research studies and special projects since 1989.  Annually, SPARK conducts between 400-500 separate, contracted workshops, presents at over 60 professional conferences, and leads 7-9 Institutes.  The compilation of these efforts results in more than 20,000 teachers trained and more than 1 million students effected each and every year!

SPARK is disseminated through School Specialty, Inc.  School Specialty provides innovative products and programs to the Educational Marketplace, servicing the needs of teachers and schools to ensure students of all ages receive the scholastic support they need to advance their learning and reach their full potential.

Selected references:

1. Marcoux, M.F., Sallis, J. F., McKenzie, T. L., Marshall, S., Armstrong, C. A., & Goggin, K. (1999). Process evaluation of a physical activity self-management program for children: SPARK. Psychology and Health, 14, 659-677.

2. McKenzie, T. L., Alcaraz, J. E., Sallis, J. F., & Faucette, F. N. (1998). Effects of a physical education program on children's manipulative skills. Journal of Teaching in Physical Education, 17, 327-341.

3. McKenzie, T. L., Alcaraz, J., & Sallis, J. F. (1994) Assessing children's liking for activity units in an elementary school physical education curriculum. Journal of Teaching in Physical Education, 13, 206-215.

4. McKenzie, T. L., Sallis, J. F., Kolody, B., & Faucette, N. (1997). Long term effects of a physical education curriculum and staff development program: SPARK. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 68, 280-291.

5. Sallis, J. F., McKenzie, T. L., Alcaraz, J. E., Kolody, B., Faucette, N., & Hovell, M. F. (1997). The effects of a 2-year physical education program (SPARK) on physical activity and fitness in elementary school students. American Journal of Public Health, 87, 1328-1334.

6. Sallis, J. F., McKenzie, T. L., Alcaraz, J. E., Kolody, B., Hovell, M. F., & Nader, P. R. (1993). Project SPARK: Effects of physical education on adiposity in children. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 699, 127-136.

7. Sallis, J. F., McKenzie, T. L., Kolody, B., Lewis, M., Marshall, S., & Rosengard, P. (1999). Effects of a health-related physical education on academic achievement: Project SPARK. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 70, 127-134.

8. Dowda, M. C., Sallis, J. F., McKenzie, T. L., Rosengard, P. R. & Kohl, H. W. (2005). Evaluating the sustainability of SPARK physical education: A case study of translating research into practice. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 76, 11-19.

Our new Grant Finder Tool will help you find grants specific to your state and type of program. New grants updated daily!

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I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed the SPARK training. I spent the entire first week back trying out some of the new activities and my students loved them. This past Friday we used the...

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