The Pennsbury School District has added a new program to its K-5 curriculum known as SPARK. With education in the 21st century as its priority, the once-a-week class hopes to teach students a wide array of life and computer skills.

SPARK training
Pennsbury Faculty members learn the fundamentals of SPARK. Photo via Pennsbury School District.

Pennsbury Director of Elementary Education Michele Spack and ten specially chosen teachers spent two days learning about SPARK from two Project Lead the Way instructors. Now, these faculty members can work with other teachers through the school year to coordinate their curriculum.

“We want to prepare our students and give them opportunities to develop those important 21st century skills,” said Spack. “Those soft skills of collaboration, communication, creativity and critical thinking.”

With the introduction of Chromebooks throughout the district, Pennsbury was able to replace previous weekly technology class. Superintendent Dr. William Gretzula says the biggest improvements over the old program focus on teaching students how to think instead of what to think.

Wendy Marino, an instructor from Project Lead the Way (second to right), helps teach components of SPARK to faculty members. Marino hails from outside Boston, MA. Photo via Pennsbury School District.

“In school so many times there is kind of that known outcome and we try and teach kids that you have to have this exact answer because that is what is correct or what’s right,” Gretzula said. “This class doesn’t have that. The reality is we are trying to teach a skill and give kids some kind of thinking processes, but the outcomes are going to vary broadly from K-5.”

Spack expanded on the differences of goals between the grade levels. She wants SPARK to help students when they enter the classroom for other subjects, and vice versa.

“There are different units of study applicable to each grade level that compliment our science curriculum,” Spack said. “We want there to be that partnership when the students come in so they already have that background and knowledge to be successful because they’ll already have some of the science content from their science curriculum.”

SPARK’s curricular materials come from a non-profit called Project Lead the Way, which the school district uses for its STEM education. Overall, SPARK will set children up for the various technological jobs that will be open to them in the future, some of which don’t even exist yet.

“Our goal is to provide a K-12 pathway for students in the fields of  biomedical engineering, the engineer design process, and computer technology so that students will have skills that will enable them to be able to choose a lot of different pathways when they graduate from highschool,” Spack said.

The ten faculty members chosen as SPARK’s first instructors include:

  • Terri Boileau,
  • Catherine Cantrell,
  • Mackenzie Carpenter,
  • Mark Costanzo,
  • Kara Covello,
  • Kristy Davis,
  • Lynn Holmes,
  • Rebecca Obert-Thorn,
  • Terri Sherman, and
  • Kristin Slota.

SPARK and its curriculum will cost $9,500 for initial training and about $95,000 for material the first year, according to a press release. Maintenance is estimated to cost $27,000 for each following year.

WBCB’s Kayla Santiago contributed to this post.