Sports, Play and Active Recreation for Kids (SPARK) After School (AS) Physical Activity Program

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Program Description

 PowerPlay, a research project in Memphis, TN and conducted in collaboration with the University of Tennessee, Memphis, involved 13, urban faith based centers. After Power Play, SPARK participated in an after school/gender equity project with Work Family Directions in Boston. This project involved YMCA's located in 15 U.S. cities and ran for 5 years. SPARK curricula and training were modified again and used to support the after school component for Project M-SPAN (Middle School Physical Activity and Nutrition), an NIH funded study of 24 middle schools from 1996-2000.

Finally, in the late 90's, SPARK conducted their last after school testing project in partnership with CANFit (CA Adolescent Nutrition and Fitness). Project BOLT (Building Opportunities for Leisure Time) involved 15 after school programs in California (Parks and Recreation, Boys and Girls Clubs, and school district run efforts) and led to the writing of the SPARK Active Recreation manual, professional development program, and selection of content matched equipment. 

Today's SPARK After School Program targets all out-of-school physical activity programs (e.g., after school, YMCA, Boys and Girls Club, recreation center, day care center, or camps). Years of research and extensive field-testing throughout the country has shown SPARK After School to be effective for children and adolescents ages 5-14.

The SPARK after school philosophy: Include ALL youth, actively engage ALL youth, and instill the love of lifelong movement in ALL youth.

When an agency or organization chooses SPARK After School, they receive four components necessary for successful promotion of physical activity: 

1. Curriculum: An easy to use 3-ring binder (simply pull out a lesson, place it on a clipboard, and take it to class) with over 400 pages of cooperative, cultural and aerobic games, dances from around the world, and enjoyable skill and sport activities written in scope and sequence. There are also instructional units on jump rope, parachute play, jogging games, fitness circuits, and beanbag activities. But remember, this is SPARK! Activities are more inclusive, active, and enjoyable because they’ve been highly modified by our team of experts, and tested for effectiveness in hundreds of after school programs nationwide. The SPARK AS Manual is a practical document presented in a simple and easy to implement format.

2.Training:The focus of After School is to provide leadership techniques and activity ideas that encourage youth to be physically active. SPARK workshops are fun and "hands-on." Youth leaders learn by doing and are motivated by SPARK's dynamic and knowledgeable trainers. SPARK trainers travel the globe to provide workshops on days and at times that are convenient for everyone

3.Equipment: A select team of SPARK After School Program developers, curriculum writers, and workshop presenters meet annually to modify the equipment sets (a set includes every item needed to instruct everything in a SPARK manual) so they align perfectly with SPARK After School activities.

4. Follow-up- support:For an after school program to work and last, ongoing consultation must be provided. SPARK is committed to extensive follow-up via their unique “SPARK Stars” institutionalization model, and myriad FREE value adds including lifetime support via 800 number and e-mail consultation, a monthly webinar series, social networking opportunities, and a monthly eNewsletter that includes SPARK updates and teaching tips. For more information on SPARK support.


SPARK Programs

Strategies for sustainability

When a school decides to implement a SPARK Program, an entire team of educators, researchers and staff assist in every way possible to ensure success. SPARK is committed to delivering a PROGRAM THAT WORKS AND LASTS.

The SPARK Program Approach:

SPARK is not just a book, it’s a program.

SPARK is not just a training, it's a program.

SPARK is not just equipment, it's a program.

Impact of program

SPARK was identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as a national model for programs designed to increase physical activity and combat childhood obesity in their report “School-Based Physical Education: An Action Guide

Evaluation tools

SPARK has collected evidence measuring the impact of physical activity related to obesity prevention. SPARK student outcomes include moderate to vigorous activity, fitness, sport skills, enjoyment of physical education,, and academic achievement. Teacher outcomes include the quantity and quality of instruction and sustainability.

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)


 Beyond the stucco tower: Design, development, and dissemination of the SPARK physical education programs.

Source: Quest, 61, 114-127.

Key elements towards success

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. 

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. The SPARK Programs also offer Institutes in the summer to give educators in-depth training in sunny San Diego.

SPARK is committed to providing outstanding customer satisfaction through timely delivery and exceptional service.SPARK believes in fostering a positive working environment that values professional growth, upward mobility, and opportunities for people to work together toward common goals." 

Challenges to meet them

SPARK strives to improve the health of children and adolescents by disseminating evidence-based physical activity and nutrition programs that provide curriculum, staff development, follow-up support, and equipment to teachers of Pre-K through 12th grade students. 

Length & stage of project

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. 

The SPARK After School (AS) Physical Activity Program began in 1995 as part of an effort to take lessons learned from the successful SPARK PE program and apply them to "out of PE" settings.