Last week, 130 Middle School students at Roland Park Country School took a break from their usual classes to participate in a new and intensive five-day learning experience called Spark. Students chose either one full-day course or two half-day courses to immerse themselves in for a full week in topics ranging from robotics, leadership and public speaking, to animation, personal finance and Chinese culture (see sidebar for full list). According to the program catalog, Spark taps into the intrinsic curiosity of children in early adolescence to provide new and valuable educational opportunities that will promote skill development, encourage community engagement and “spark” independent, lifelong discovery.
The week was action packed, with field trips, guest speakers and major projects that culminated in a piano recital, mock interviews, robot Olympics, a dance performance, animated shorts and more! To break up each day, the Middle Schoolers came together before lunch for a daily community building activity.
Keri-Sue Baker, an eighth grade English and language arts teacher, was the driving force behind Spark. With a summer grant awarded by RPCS, Ms. Baker worked with a committee to turn the idea into a reality. In addition to benefiting the students academically and socially, it has also been valuable to the teachers as they had the opportunity to plan new lessons and dive deep into topics they believe are beneficial to a student’s growth both inside and outside the classroom.
“The faculty involved in Spark were thrilled to witness the intrinsic motivation students had for their sessions,” said Ms. Baker. “They were completely engaged in their learning and absorbing all they could. Technology, media, personal finance, wellness, design thinking, collaboration, communication, leadership, resilience, critical thinking and courage are just some of the skills and qualities 21st century learners need. Spark’s focus on combining traditional and modern skills with character development creates a really special program where students are willing to take on academics and expand social circles. I couldn’t ask for more!”
Other Middle School faculty and students agree that the first Spark week has been an absolute success and discussions about plans for next year are already underway. When surveyed after the week was over, the student feedback was overwhelmingly positive. They were thrilled to explore new interests, make friends in different grades, and take a break from their regular schedules.
“I really liked it and I hope we do it again next year because it taught me very valuable lessons I can apply in my life,” said Skylar C., a seventh grader. Many of the courses focused on lifelong applications, such as the components of what makes a strong leader in The Journey to Leadership, the importance of a professional appearance both in person and on social media in Interview Skills, and giving and receiving constructive feedback on speeches in Public Speaking. And several of the classes also ignited new passions for the students that can last a lifetime, such as gardening, quilting and yoga. Watch this segment on WBAL-TV to see the Relaxation Techniques class in action.
“I loved the SPARK program,” said Hannah Z., an eighth grader. “It gave us a break from our normal classes and allowed us to pursue something we are interested in.”
2019 Spark Course Offerings
- 3D Printing in Action
- Animation – Learning From Pixar
- Chinese Culture – Philosophy, Medicine, Art and Mindfulness
- Dance – Cultural and Regional Choreography
- Edgar Allen Poe – Are you a “Poe”tte?
- Interview Skills – Introducing Me
- Law and Order – Teens on Trial
- Leadership – The Journey to Leadership
- Media Literacy – Be in the Know
- Personal Finance – Money! Money! Money!
- Piano Instruction – Let’s Play Piano
- Public Speaking – Unleash the Power of Your Voice
- Quilting – The Art, Math and History of Quilting
- Relaxation Techniques
- Robotics Olympics (full-day sessions)
- Short Story Writing
- Sketch-Up (3D Geometry)
- Stock Market Game
- Urban Meadow (full-day sessions)