What is SPARK?

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SPARK: Countering Childhood Obesity Since 1989

SPARK is dedicated to creating, implementing, and evaluating research-based programs that promote lifelong wellness.  SPARK strives to improve the health of children, adolescents, and adults by disseminating evidence-based programs to teachers and recreation leaders serving Pre-K through 12th grade students.

Each SPARK program fosters environmental and behavioral change by providing a coordinated package of highly active curriculum, on-site teacher training, extensive follow-up support, and content-matched equipment.

A Healthy Beginning

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.

Results

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)

Awards & Honors

SPARK has been honored as an Exemplary Program of the U.S. Department of Education; featured in the Surgeon General’s Report as a “School-based solution to our nation’s healthcare crisis;” earned a “Governor’s Commendation;” and in 2005, was awarded “Gold” (highest ranking) for their elementary and middle school PE programs in an independent study commissioned by the Cooper Institute. SPARK is the ONLY program to earn “PE Gold” grades K-8.

SPARK was recently identified as a successful model for combating childhood obesity in the report, “Fighting Obesity: What Works, What’s Promising” by the HSC Foundation. The report speaks of SPARK’s history, practice, and methods. SPARK was the ONLY program recommended for physical education AND physical activity.

SPARK was identified by the Center for Disease Control (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.

SPARK was chosen as a “Selected School-Based Intervention” in the report Preventing Childhood Obesity: Health in the Balance by the National Academy of Sciences

Sharing Good News and Growing

Following the research phase, the elementary PE program was expanded to focus on dissemination. Over the years, additional research has led to the creation and development of:

  • Early Childhood (ages 3-5)
  • Middle School PE (grades 6-8)
  • After School (ages 5-14)
  • High School PE
  • Classroom Activity and Recess (SPARKabc’s – Activity Break Choices)

SPARK has expert trainers that travel the globe to conduct effective teacher workshops in the SPARK research-based programs.  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.

SPARK has trained teachers representing more than 100,000 schools worldwide and facilitated or partnered in more than 20 research studies and special projects since 1989.  Annually, SPARK conducts workshops, presents at professional conferences, and leads independent institutes.  The compilation of these efforts results in more than 20,000 teachers trained and more than 1 million students effected each and every year!

SPARK is disseminated through Gopher Sport.  For over 70 years, Gopher has provided schools and institutions acrpss the world with products and solutions dedicated to helping both young and old lead more active and healthy lives.  The SPARK programs are perfectly aligned to continue this mission and together, SPARK and Gopher look forward to continuing to advocate for higher levels of quality physical education and activity programs in our schools and believe physical activity is a key component to a well-rounded education and the health of generations to come.

Selected references

1. Marcoux, M.F., Sallis, J. F., McKenzie, T. L., Marshall, S., Armstrong, C. A., & Goggin, K. (1999). Process evaluation of a physical activity self-management program for children: SPARK. Psychology and Health, 14, 659-677.

2. McKenzie, T. L., Alcaraz, J. E., Sallis, J. F., & Faucette, F. N. (1998). Effects of a physical education program on children’s manipulative skills. Journal of Teaching in Physical Education, 17, 327-341.

3. McKenzie, T. L., Alcaraz, J., & Sallis, J. F. (1994) Assessing children’s liking for activity units in an elementary school physical education curriculum. Journal of Teaching in Physical Education, 13, 206-215.

4. McKenzie, T. L., Sallis, J. F., Kolody, B., & Faucette, N. (1997). Long term effects of a physical education curriculum and staff development program: SPARK. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 68, 280-291.

5. Sallis, J. F., McKenzie, T. L., Alcaraz, J. E., Kolody, B., Faucette, N., & Hovell, M. F. (1997). The effects of a 2-year physical education program (SPARK) on physical activity and fitness in elementary school students. American Journal of Public Health, 87, 1328-1334.

6. Sallis, J. F., McKenzie, T. L., Alcaraz, J. E., Kolody, B., Hovell, M. F., & Nader, P. R. (1993). Project SPARK: Effects of physical education on adiposity in children. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 699, 127-136.

7. Sallis, J. F., McKenzie, T. L., Kolody, B., Lewis, M., Marshall, S., & Rosengard, P. (1999). Effects of a health-related physical education on academic achievement: Project SPARK. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 70, 127-134.

8. Dowda, M. C., Sallis, J. F., McKenzie, T. L., Rosengard, P. R. & Kohl, H. W. (2005). Evaluating the sustainability of SPARK physical education: A case study of translating research into practice. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 76, 11-19.