In 2017, The SPARK Initiative engaged an external research team from Group Victory, LLC to conduct an outcome evaluation on the SPARK Curricula. The SPARK Initiative is a nonprofit organization in Brandon, Florida focused on cultivating human potential and resilience by providing education, mentoring, and coaching that increases individuals understanding of the mind. Group Victory LLC is an organization development firm in Fort Lauderdale, Florida that provides program evaluation support. The SPARK Curricula is a mentoring curriculum created by the SPARK Initiative to promote youth resiliency, emotional well-being, and academic success.
Together, The SPARK Initiative and the Group Victory evaluation team designed a randomized controlled trial study with pre and post intervention measurement to assess the impact of the SPARK curriculum on the following youth attributes:
- Level of knowledge of curriculum content
- Level of communication, decision making, and problem solving skills
- Level of emotional regulation
- Level of resilience
This report, which documents the impact of the SPARK Curricula on positive youth development, contains the following components:
- SPARK Curricula description
- Program fidelity adherence
- Student attendance
- Study participant characteristics
- Research methods
- Outcome evaluation findings
In January 2018, six schools agreed to participate in evaluating the SPARK Curricula. In the middle of January, parents signed consent forms for their youth to participate. The six schools participating in the evaluation included two high schools, two private schools for students receiving special education, and two career centers categorized as “Alternative Education”schools by the Hillsborough County School District.
Overall, 222 students participated in the study representing six schools and 14 classrooms. Surprisingly, only 13 students were lost to attrition over time leaving 209 students completing both a pre- and post-questionnaire with 112 students randomly assigned to receive the SPARK Curriculum and 97 students randomly assigned to receive the prescribed school curriculum. The demographic characteristics did not differ between the two groups of students and the two groups did not differ on pre-intervention scales.
The level of attendance of students in the SPARK group showed excellent attendance rates indicating the students received an adequate amount of the program. Fidelity ratings revealed outstanding adherence to program objectives by program facilitators.
The 67 students over the age of 15 who received the SPARK showed significant improvements in the four attributes measured compared to the 64 students who did not receive the curriculum. The 45 students under the age of 15 who received the SPARK curriculum did not show any significant improvements and did not differ from the 33 students who did not receive the curriculum. It should be noted, however, that most students under 15 years of age were being served in two, small, private, special education centers for students with learning challenges such as learning disabilities and emotional disturbances. This population and their school environments are very different from the school environments for the older students. These findings warrant future investigation.
Results from the SPARK Curricula study indicate the following self-reported outcomes for students 15 years of age or older:
- Significant improvement in their knowledge of the SPARK curriculum with
72% of the students 15-years-old or older showed positive change on their knowledge of the SPARK curriculum while only 33% of the students without exposure to SPARK showed positive change,
- Significant improvement in their decision making and problem-solving skills with67% of the students 15-years-old or older showed positive change on their communication, decision making and problem-solving skills while only 34% of the students without exposure to SPARK showed positive change,
- Significant improvement in their emotional regulation with
64% of the students 15-years-old or older showed less difficulty in regulating their emotions while only 25% of the students without exposure to SPARK had less difficulty in this area, and
- Significant improvement in their level of resilience in the areas of mastery and relatedness with66% of the students 15-years-old or older showed positive change on their levels of resiliency while only 36% of the students without exposure to SPARK showed positive change in this area.
Future evaluation could explore youth populations under the age of 15 years served in general education settings. Additionally, the scope of the research could be expanded to explore other important outcomes such as changes in grades and rates of disciplines reported over time. In addition, qualitative data could be collected from key stakeholders on the depth and essence of their experiences with the SPARK curricula.