MUSCATINE, Iowa–In 2021 after a year of pandemic interruptions, Muscatine Community School District sought a way to help elementary students prepare for their next grade in school and have outstanding experiential learning opportunities along the way. The district developed the Summer Program for Arts, Recreation, and Knowledge, or S.P.A.R.K. and offered it for a month in June and July. The program proved both successful and popular. This summer, the district will offer S.P.A.R.K. again and has opened registration for interested elementary students, thanks to funding available through the federal Elementary and Secondary School Relief Act.
S.P.A.R.K. will follow the model it piloted last year, with students beginning their day with free breakfast and then spending the morning working on academic skills such as reading, writing, and math. Students will both review skills they learned the previous year and learn skills they will use in the school year ahead. This learning, paired with the afternoon’s activities, sets children up for success in the coming year. Jefferson Principal and S.P.A.R.K. organizer Kandy Steel explained: “we know that kids who are physically active and who participate in summer programs designed to accelerate a child’s learning have better attendance, grades, and classroom behaviors during the school year.”
After lunch (which they may have for free as well) students will get to work with a wide variety of community partners to explore topics of interest to them. These will include getting to view real animals with Muscatine County Conservation and canoeing at Deep Lakes Park, going inside the Earth balloon and learning about world cultures through guests brought in by the Stanley Center for Peace and Security, and having hands on experiences with STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) concepts with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. “Most of our community partners are already planning their own summer programing around S.P.A.R.K.,” shared Steel. “This really speaks to their commitment to the students in our community.”
More than just entertaining kids, these afternoon sessions will also help students develop real-world skills that will help them lead in their classrooms and other areas of their lives. Steel elaborated, “At S.P.A.R.K., kids are not only working on improving their academic skills, they are having fun and practicing skills like teamwork, cooperation, perseverance, and listening, all skills tied to developing as a strong leader.”
This year, S.P.A.R.K. will run from June 21 through July 22 at Jefferson Elementary School. Parents may sign up their students currently in kindergarten through sixth grade for free, with the understanding that their students will need to attend for the duration of the program. Parents may either register online or by contacting the office at their child’s school. S.P.A.R.K. has room for approximately 450 students and will fill spots on a first come first served basis. However, they can add additional students to a wait list in case any of the original enrollees cannot participate. Students who do not attend Jefferson during the school year may also take advantage of free busing from their home school.
As families look for summer education opportunities for their children, Steel encourages them to take a look S.P.A.R.K. and the benefits it offers. “It’s a great way to spend the summer, making new friends from different elementary schools in Muscatine and learning from our amazing MCSD teachers, staff, and community members,” Steel highlighted.