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.