SPARK: a New Elementary “Special” in Pennsbury

With the pas­sage of the 2019–2020 School District final bud­get on June 20th, the Pennsbury Board of School Directors approved the re-instatement of a fifth “spe­cial” to the ele­men­tary sched­ule. Supplementing the cur­rent spe­cials that include phys­i­cal edu­ca­tion, music, art, and library will be the intro­duc­tion of a new week­ly class for grades K‑5 known as SPARK. The intro­duc­tion of Chromebooks for stu­dent use in class­rooms District-wide elim­i­nat­ed the need for the pre­vi­ous fifth spe­cial, which had been known as a week­ly com­put­er class.

SPARK is an inno­v­a­tive ele­men­tary lit­er­a­cy and problem-solving pro­gram based on STEM prin­ci­ples that is meant to ‘spark’ curios­i­ty and learn­ing,” said Michele Spack, Pennsbury’s Director of Elementary Education, who is the lead admin­is­tra­tor over­see­ing the ini­tia­tive. “In staffing this new pro­gram, we sought expe­ri­enced teach­ers who have famil­iar­i­ty with teach­ing ele­men­tary and/or mid­dle lev­el lit­er­a­cy, math­e­mat­ics, and sci­ence, along with oth­er aspects of Inquiry-Based Learning.” The ten Pennsbury fac­ul­ty mem­bers select­ed to be SPARK teach­ers begin­ning in the fall of 2019 are: Terri Boileau, Catherine Cantrell-Jones, Mackenzie Carpenter, Mark Costanzo, Kara Covello, Kristy Davis, Lynn Holmes, Rebecca Obert-Thorn, Terri Sherman, and Kristin Slota.

In addi­tion to enabling stu­dents to explore the Project Lead the Way (PLTW) cur­ricu­lum, SPARK class­es will also offer oppor­tu­ni­ties to code, learn key con­cepts regard­ing dig­i­tal cit­i­zen­ship, and cre­ate projects using the Genius Hour frame­work. The foun­da­tion of the cur­ricu­lum will be the inter­dis­ci­pli­nary mod­ules of the PLTW “Launch” pro­gram. These empow­er stu­dents through com­pelling activ­i­ties, projects, and prob­lems that build upon each oth­er and relate to the world around them. Students will devel­op per­se­ver­ance, design think­ing, resilience, and kinet­ic knowl­edge through real-world appli­ca­tions of these skills.

The cost to the District for the intro­duc­tion of PLTW includes approx­i­mate­ly $9,500 for ini­tial train­ing and about $95,000 for mate­ri­als the first year. After that, mate­ri­als replace­ment costs will be approx­i­mate­ly $27,000 a year. All costs will be cov­ered by the Elementary Curriculum budget.

SPARK teach­ers will also devel­op for­mal and infor­mal path­ways to enhance pro­fes­sion­al learn­ing for all teach­ers in the school com­mu­ni­ty by infus­ing tech­nol­o­gy for deep­er learn­ing. They will also sup­port, col­lab­o­rate, and co-teach with peers in the design and imple­men­ta­tion of lessons and projects.