learn / 2015

Spark LA Youth Apprenticeships

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by Spark Los Angeles

What if everyday professionals could help improve LA’s dropout rate, right from their desks? By pairing students with mentors in exciting workplaces like Google and Hulu, Spark connects the dots between school and a future career. 69% of LA students drop out in 9th grade, but if mentors can ignite a spark in them—in 7th and 8th grade—students would be motivated to stay in school. With less than 1% of the LA workforce serving as a mentor, Spark could reach every off-track 7th and 8th grader.


In what areas of Los Angeles will you be directly working?

  • Central LA
  • East LA
  • South LA
  • Westside
  • LAUSD
  • Spark is partnered with 6 LAUSD schools, as well as workplaces throughout the city.

How do you plan to use these resources to make change?

  • Engage residents and stakeholders
  • Expand a pilot or a program

How will your proposal improve the following “Learn” metrics?

  • District-wide graduation rates
  • Student education pipeline (an integrated network of pre-schools, K-12 institutions, and higher education systems that prepares students for seamless transitions between high school, higher ed
  • Suspension and expulsion rates (Dream Metric)
  • Truancy rates in elementary and middle schools (Dream Metric)

Describe in greater detail how you will make LA the best place to learn.

If LA is going to be the best place to learn, learning cannot be isolated to schools, and the task of educating our youth cannot be given only to teachers. Spark engages working professionals throughout the city to mentor middle school students at-risk of dropping out, to be the next generation of architects, computer programmers, scientists, and more.

Spark LA takes traditional classroom education and expands it, connecting it with real-life workplaces. In the spring of 2010, Spark LA launched with 13 students and a big vision: to meaningfully impact LA’s education landscape. By 2050, Spark envisions every off-track LA student being matched with a mentor who inspires them to stay in school and graduate, effectively making LA the best place to learn.

In the current academic year, Spark LA is serving 350 LA students across 6 schools in underserved neighborhoods, such as Boyle Heights, East Hollywood, MacArthur Park, and South LA. We are also engaging over 600 mentors from over 20 of LA’s top companies, including Hulu, Cornerstone OnDemand, HBO, Union Bank, Wells Fargo Capital, Gensler, Pandora, and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Not only do students and schools benefit, but LA’s top companies and their employees are directly engaged and supporting local education efforts. Spark provides companies with a turnkey employee engagement program. Mentors using Spark to build relationships across departments at their company, in addition to networking with mentors from other companies. 98% of mentors report that they are ‘proud’ their company partners with Spark, thus increasing employee brand loyalty and engagement.

What’s more, the Spark Program works! Our results to date have shown that 89% of Spark students finish 8th grade on track for on time high school graduation, compared to 70% of their peers. Furthermore, 92% of Spark alumni have graduated high school on time, or are on track to do so, far surpassing local and national graduation rates of 70% and 80%, respectively.

Spark LA is building a movement, with the goal of serving entire schools and neighborhoods by 2050. As more students see the relevance of their education through Spark, local graduation rates will improve, and youth will have the skills and career exposure that will help them succeed in their academic, professional, and personal lives. Imagine all at-risk LA students being matched with a mentor; what a great city in which to learn!

Please explain how you will evaluate your work.

By 2050, Spark wants to match every struggling LA middle schooler with a mentor from a local workplace. To achieve this, we need to build long-term partnerships with more schools, as well as with the biggest companies in LA. We need to deepen our engagement with each of our current corporate partners by involving more employees each semester. Additionally, we need to launch new partnerships with companies that are excited about getting their employees involved.

By 2050, Spark wants every LA student to finish 8th grade on track for graduation. To do so, we help struggling 7th and 8th graders to improve their social/emotional and workforce skills, and school performance. To evaluate our progress, we have a data-sharing agreement with LAUSD through which we track students’ grades and attendance records. We also have students, parents, teachers, and mentors complete pre-, mid-, and post-program surveys geared towards tracking changes in students’ social/emotional and workforce skills.

How can the LA2050 community and other stakeholders help your proposal succeed?

  • Money (financial capital)
  • Volunteers/staff (human capital)
  • Community outreach
  • Network/relationship support