SPARK celebrates 25!
By Jim Sallis
It’s exhilarating to celebrate the 25th year of SPARK. In 1989 we had big ambitions for our new NIH grant. We wanted to define what health-related physical education is, comprehensively evaluate a program that we designed to meet that vision, and then encourage schools to adopt the program so kids could be healthier. I could not have imagined where those ideas have led by 2014. I am very proud to be part of the SPARK story, because SPARK has improved the physical activity, health, and quality of life for millions children and adolescents over the past 25 years.
The research teams worked hard on the SPARK and M-SPAN studies that produced the original curricula, training, and support model and materials. But there are numerous successful research programs that never have any impact in people’s lives. What makes SPARK different is the staff, led by Paul Rosengard. Paul and the staff not only share the vision of improving children’s health through physical activity, but they have built an organization that brings the joy of SPARK to about 1.5 million young people every day. I use “joy” of SPARK deliberately, because the first data we collected in a pilot study were enjoyment ratings of SPARK PE classes. We were pleased that the fifth graders chose “smiley faces” almost all the time for all the class activities. Delivering fun has been our job at SPARK ever since.
At 25, SPARK as an organization is now an adult. The staff have high level skills and are dedicated to doing a great job at customer service. We have created a national network of trainers, and the feedback from staff development sessions continues to be consistently enthusiastic. We take responsibility for updating, expanding, and improving programs and products. Like most young adults, SPARK is a sophisticated user of technology. Our video group has produced hundreds of videos that help instructors deliver great physical activity programs. All materials are now available online. I am amazed that teachers now can take all of SPARK out on the field with iPads. That is a real revolution in physical education. SPARK is even doing some traveling, growing rapidly in India and China. I’m confident SPARK will continue to evolve and innovate so we can get better at delivering great instruction to teachers and great physical activity to students.
As long as our schools want children to be active and healthier, we will keep delivering the joy of SPARK.
James F. Sallis, Ph.D.
Distinguished Professor of Family and Preventive Medicine Chief,
Division of Behavioral Medicine. http://behavioralmedicine.ucsd.edu/
University of California, San Diego
SPARK staff celebrates 25 years at the Annual Trainers Meeting in June 2014