Archive for the ‘Jim Sallis’ Category

SPARK celebrates 25! Reflection from Dr. Jim Sallis

Monday, July 21st, 2014

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.

Jim Sallis

James F. Sallis, Ph.D.

Distinguished Professor of Family and Preventive Medicine Chief,

Division of Behavioral Medicine.

University of California, San Diego

SPARK Staff at ATM Dinner

SPARK staff celebrates 25 years at the Annual Trainers Meeting in June 2014

My favorite principal in Malaysia

Friday, April 4th, 2014

by Dr. Jim Sallis

I recently had an opportunity to visit Malaysia, to speak at the International Conference on Obesity and have meetings with collaborators. As part of tours of potential neighborhoods for an IPEN Adolescent study (, we visited a high school in Kuala Lumpur. The school was buzzing with activity due to a girls’ handball tournament after school. Handball is like soccer except you use the hands. Unexpectedly we were invited to meet the principal. While meeting with the principal we told her we were interested in physical activity. She immediately launched into a passionate endorsement of the importance of physical activity in school. She said it was essential to have a balance of movement and academics. She also said that physical activity helps students with their academic studies.

It was such a treat to hear this kind of enthusiasm for physical activity from a principal. I wish I heard this point of view more often in the US. She understood that children need to move and the brain and body are connected.

–  Jim Sallis

Here’s a picture of our group:


New Year’s Message from SPARK Principal Dr. Jim Sallis

Friday, January 17th, 2014


Wishing you all an active, healthy, and happy 2014.

I was able to attend the SPARK quarterly staff meeting in December and was pleasantly surprised at the significant accomplishments and progress. These were the most impressive learnings for me.

  • Thousands of teachers and activity leaders were trained, bringing evidence-based physical activity programs to tens of thousands more students.
  • Hundreds of videos illustrating SPARK lessons were recorded and posted online. This is an amazing resource that is much more effective than the printed page. Please use these videos.
  • I saw the first SPARK curriculum book in Mandarin Chinese. SPARK is launching in China, thanks to wonderful collaborators, partners, and advocates.
  • SPARK’s partnership in India continues to grow. These Asian countries are rapidly shedding their traditional active lifestyles, so programs to SPARK more movement are increasingly needed.

We have several new staff at SPARK who will bring new ideas and energy to our important work.  They will help us achieve our mission even better.  

I want to express my appreciation to the SPARK staff for their dedication to the mission of improving the lives of children through physical activity. I thank all of you who use SPARK and recommend it to others.

Have a great 2014.

Jim Sallis

Good News About Active Physical Education

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

To those of us at SPARK, and certainly to me, active classes is a hallmark of quality Physical Education (PE). A PE class in which students are standing or sitting most of the time cannot be a good PE class. PE is about teaching through the physical. The goal is to teach movement skills, teamwork, and positive social interactions, as well as improve fitness and promote the joy of movement by getting students active. Right? In my view, teaching facts about physiology, bio-mechanics, sociology, history of sport and other content is a lesser priority. If you can teach facts while the kids are active, that’s great. Otherwise, I would prefer the students learn useful knowledge in health education, which should have a strong component on physical activity and effective behavior change methods. Physical activity is the heart and soul of PE.

The Healthy People objectives for the nation have included goals for active PE since at least 1990. The health objective of ensuring at least 50% of PE class time is spent in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) is specific and measurable. This objective, and others recommending sufficient quantity of PE, demonstrate that the Department of Health and Human Services sees school PE as an important partner in improving children’s health. It looks like these objectives will be carried over into Healthy People 2020. The rationale for these objectives is simple. Many or most young people are endangering their health by not meeting physical activity guidelines, and PE is the only part of the school day that can ensure ALL students get some physical activity. It is well documented that, too often, only a small portion of PE class time is spent in MVPA, so meeting the MVPA objective could help the health of millions of children. During the obesity epidemic, it is essential to use every opportunity to help kids be active, and PE is at the top of the list—again, because it is the only opportunity that can affect all kids.

I have been lamenting in talks and conversations for many years that I do not know of any national, state, or local educational agency that has adopted the 50% MVPA guidelines. For 20 years, the public health field has asked, encouraged, and begged education agencies to make sure kids are active in PE. NIH has spent many millions of dollars on SPARK, MSPAN, CATCH, Pathways, TAAG, and LEAP to demonstrate that active PE is feasible and effective in elementary, middle, and high schools. Yet for 20 years the education field has ignored public health’s pleas, and those of us in public health do not really understand the resistance to helping kids become healthier.

Here is the good news. The barrier has been broken. A ray of hope is shining that may mean public health and education can work toward the shared goal of adopting policies of 50% MVPA in PE. I heard a presentation of results from Bridging the Gap, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation-supported research program. Bridging the Gap reviewed written school wellness policies in a national sample of schools. They reported what percent of students were in districts that had a strong policy to require 50% MVPA. A strong policy required action, had an implementation plan, and used words like shall, must, and enforce. To my surprise, the result was not zero. The number was only 6-7%, but it was above zero. This looks like a good outcome of the federally-mandated school wellness policies. However, now someone needs to check on whether these strong policies are actually leading to improved PE. Note that I am ignoring the 22-29% of students in districts with weak policies, because they don’t mean anything. Download the Bridging the Gap report on wellness policies.

These few districts are leading the way to healthier and higher quality PE. My hope is that other districts will follow their lead. Then state departments of education will decide this policy is worth adopting. Then state departments and districts will provide staff development, curriculum, and equipment to ensure all the teachers can reach this goal and the other goals of PE. Then perhaps we will meet the Healthy People 2020 objective, PE classes across the country will be more active, and children will be healthier. This is what we are working toward with SPARK.

Jim Sallis

It was 20 years ago today!

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

In August 1989 the SPARK study began, with funding from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Our goal was to create a national model of physical education designed to respond to children’s health needs. We wanted to not only get kids active, but “turn them on” to activity and build the physical and behavior-change competencies they needed to remain active and healthy.

Twenty years later, I can say we succeeded beyond my wildest expectations! The SPARK and M-SPAN studies provided some of the evidence that led The Community Guide to strongly recommend enhanced physical education as an evidence-based intervention. We now have a suite of physical activity and school health programs to help young people remain active. There is a network of talented trainers across the country who provide hundreds of enthusiastically-received trainings every year. We have shown that when teachers learn to use SPARK, they keep using it for years. Most importantly, well over 1 million children benefit from SPARK every day. I often say SPARK is the most fulfilling experience of my career.

Of course, I was just a catalyst for what SPARK has become. Thom McKenzie is the architect who built a fabulous program. Paul Rosengard is the mastermind behind the blossoming of SPARK into a powerful force for improving health throughout the nation (and hopefully, soon, the world). It is a rare combination of skills to go from being an award-winning coach to a PE innovator to directing the phenomenal growth of SPARK, while maintaining quality and our strong reputation the whole time.

Recently, the SPARK staff and the master trainers got together to celebrate SPARK’s 20th birthday. It was a special occasion for me for many reasons. I really enjoyed paying tribute to Thom, Paul, and all the fabulous staff. It was a special treat to recognize SPARK employee numero uno, Kecia Carrasco. She was number one then, and she is number one now. We are all blessed that she is still devoting her considerable talents to SPARK. And it wouldn’t have been a SPARK party without a lot of fun activities. The master trainers led us in 3 great dances under the California sun, and I hope you get a chance to see some of the video.

With all that the SPARK team has accomplished, it is not nearly enough. While SPARK was growing, so was the obesity epidemic. It is very fortunate that we created some solutions for this problem, because concern about childhood obesity is certainly driving much of the interest in what we can provide. But still most schools do not have evidence-based activity-focused physical education. Most after-school, preschool, and recreation programs are not active enough. We have much more to do. But “with a little help from our friends” we will “come together” and SPARK the “revolution” that is needed to get every child active so they can be healthier and happier.

Jim Sallis