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learn / 2019

The Possibility Movement: Fueling the Next Generation of Difference-Makers in Los Angeles

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Grants Challenge by Spark Program Inc

Spark was founded with a simple belief, that regardless of race, gender, or socioeconomic status, all young people deserve opportunities to explore who they can become. Recognizing that not all communities have the same access to the resources that inspire successful futures, Spark aims to equalize the playing field for students by connecting them to meaningful workplace mentorships throughout Los Angeles. In partnership with passionate LA community members, we show young people what's possible.

Briefly tell us a story that demonstrates how your organization turns inspiration into impact.

Spark was founded by two educators in the Bay who saw a troubling gap between schools and their surrounding communities. Middle school students were confined to classrooms and disengaged— a world apart from the wealth of resources that neighboring businesses had to offer. Spark was founded on the belief that all young people should be inspired to explore who they can become, and all adults have a role in supporting them in that journey.

Throughout our work, we often hear that the impact goes well beyond academic and career readiness - it’s life-changing. Not only do our students develop new skills and learn about new environments, but they also deepen their understanding of themselves, their interests, and their dreams. Spark Alumni Myra is a perfect example.

Spark first met Myra when she was an 8th grader in LA. Like many of Myra’s schoolmates, her parents were immigrants and never went to college. Despite that, the importance of education was imparted to Myra early on. When she was only 9 years old, her father was deported. Just a few years later her mom faced a serious medical illness. Her family was struggling.

At Bethune Middle School, Myra learned about Spark. She reports signing up for the program because she “wanted to have someone guide me.” Myra was matched for mentorship to Perry, CFO & Co-Founder of Cornerstone OnDemand. Together, they explored Myra’s interest in opening up a coffee shop, a real-life dream for her family. With Perry’s collaboration, Myra learned how to launch a business and research peer companies in that industry. She worked hard on skills like public speaking and communication, an area she reported initially lacking confidence in. “Perry was a mentor in many ways, not just career-wise, but also life-wise.” Myra’s bond with Perry was so fortified that he and his family attended her High School graduation to cheer her on. They remain close.

Myra is now enrolled at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She returned to the Spark in LA this summer - this time as an intern! Despite the adversity she faced early on, Myra was determined to succeed in school and continue on a path to pursue her dreams. We are so excited to see what is in store for her future.

Which of the learn metrics will your submission impact?​

  • District-wide graduation rates
  • Students’ immersion in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math content
  • Student education pipeline

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

  • Central LA
  • South LA
  • Westside

How will your project make LA the best place to learn?

Spark is leading The Possibility Movement, a national call to action for community members to stop the cycle of poverty by breaking down barriers that exist in their very own backyards. 1.2 million students drop out of high school every year in the US. The path to dropping out begins well before then. Research shows that middle school is a troubling turning point for students when up to 60% become chronically disengaged. This lack of engagement is often exacerbated by under-resourced schools and perceived lack of opportunity. Through the powerful combination of mentoring, hands-on learning, and access to resources, Los Angeles Unified School District students participating in Spark develop the motivation, skills, and relationships necessary to successfully transition to high school, a significant contributor of a longer-term trajectory of success.

Spark in LA offers a three-pronged program model that combines mentorship with opportunities for skill development across three pillars of success: social-emotional learning, social capital and school performance and engagement. Students begin in the fall of 7th Grade with Spark Labs, structured workshops held at different companies across Los Angeles where students and volunteers explore various career options through self-discovery activities. In spring, students progress to an intensive 13-week mentorship with an employee volunteer. As students enter 8th grade, High School Pathways helps them identify school options that are a fit for their unique needs through workshops and Spark’s interactive online tool.

By re-engaging students during a critical time of development, Spark helps students get on the right path for high school graduation. In fact, 92% of Spark Students have graduated or are on track to graduate on time, compared to an average of 68% in the districts Spark serves. High school graduation is an important milestone that goes beyond a piece of paper. High School graduates across the board have better outcomes than those who drop out. Most notably, graduates are less likely to be unemployed, engage in criminal behavior, have poor health, and live in poverty. Graduating from high school empowers students to break the cycle of poverty, which has a profound impact on each individual and communities at large. In fact, graduating half a class of high school dropouts would save US taxpayers $45 billion that year alone.

Moreover, through our program, we are helping young people discover what’s possible and develop the skills they need to make their dreams a reality. Through hands-on, experiential learning opportunities, Spark is fueling students’ awareness of and interest in different career paths and in turn, helping to diversify the employment pipeline in years to come. Lastly, through our expansive network of company partners, Spark is providing meaningful opportunities for employees to learn about, connect to, and make a difference in diverse communities across LA.

In what stage of innovation is this project?

Expand existing program (expanding and continuing ongoing successful projects)

Please explain how you will define and measure success for your project.

In 2017, Spark was awarded the first-ever US2020 Stem Mentoring Award for Excellence in Impact Measurement. We highly value evaluation and are constantly looking for ways to enhance our programming. Spark evaluates program effectiveness based on students’ academic and social-emotional development in areas associated with high school, college, and career success. Our rigorous evaluation includes the collection of quantitative and qualitative data from students, mentors, and teachers at three points throughout the program as well as data collected and shared from school districts. This 360-view assesses student progress toward target outcomes, such as the ability to develop the skills, connections, and engagement needed to graduate from high school and continue down a path of academic and career achievement.

Our research-based curriculum is designed around three central pillars of success: Social-emotional learning skills, social capital, and performance and engagement in school. Social-Emotional Skills include self-awareness, self-management, and decision making, while Social Capital focuses on growing awareness of and access to relationships and resources for educational and career success. Performance / Engagement looks at key indicators like student grades, attendance, and behavior. Success in all three of these skill areas is correlated with high school graduation, academic achievement, secondary education completion, and employability.

Our data consistently shows students participating in Spark programs growing in their social-emotional competencies and social capital. Corroborating school data also shows that students are simultaneously improving in other areas of success such as academic performance and school attendance. In the last school year, 86% of Spark students grew in social-emotional skills such as teamwork, problem-solving, and communication, 99% of Spark students report learning about different jobs and careers they didn’t know about before Spark, 90% of Spark students improved in critical competencies for successful classroom engagement. Significantly, organization-wide 92% of Spark alumnus are on track to graduate high school on time compared to 68% of their peers.