On Sept. 9, students and representatives of the Kyrene School District in metropolitan Phoenix, Arizona; and Carole Basile, dean of Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University, officially cut the ribbon to dedicate SPARK School. SPARK is the result of a two-year collaborative design process that brought together district administrators, faculty members, students and parents with an MLFTC design team. Their mission was to design a school experience that better met the needs of students and teachers.
SPARK occupies a purpose-designed space within Kyrene de las Manitas Elementary School. While most of Manitas’ students attend traditional, grade-level classrooms, SPARK creates a dynamic learning environment open to students in grades 3 and 4. SPARK’s facilities include collaborative areas, technology stations, a hands-on lab, an adaptable gathering space with modular furniture, and areas for lecture, activities, performances and quiet reflection. In the center is a makerspace equipped with computers, a 3D printer and programmable mini-robots.
The SPARK faculty includes two teacher executive designers — including lead TED Mary Brown, three lead teachers from the district and three resident MLFTC teacher candidates. The six teaching faculty members work in flexible teams across both grade levels to optimize learning in large and small groups, and to take advantage of the multiple modes of learning offered by the technology in the space.
“The reason we feel this concept is really groundbreaking,” Brown said, “is because it gives students the opportunity to ask the questions and go explore the answers, instead of asking a question and having only one answer.”
SPARK has 80 third and fourth grade students in its inaugural year, but the district plans to offer the program’s benefits to fifth graders next year. Kyrene Superintendent Jan Vesely says SPARK also has benefits for teachers. “It provides them with the space to creatively practice the art of teaching in nontraditional ways, by creating new roles and staffing structures which will attract and retain high-quality staff and reinvigorate the teaching profession,” Vesely says.
One of the district’s members in the core design team that created SPARK said, “I hope students in our school will leave the learning environment every day with their minds filled with new learning that fuels them and excites them to the degree that they can hardly wait to return the next day.”