By Luke Baynes
“You can’t start a fire without a spark,” Bruce Springsteen observed in the 1984 single “Dancing in the Dark,” the biggest hit of The Boss’ career.
Williston Central School bosses are hoping that dictum rings true with Spark Academy, an extended day program designed to light a fire under struggling students and encourage them that learning, once you get the hang of it, can be fun.
WCS Principal Jackie Parks explained that the extended day concept is twofold.
“One (component) is to make sure that kids that need extra time and support to get some of the key concepts, particularly in literacy and math, have additional time to do that with professionals,” Parks said. “The other is to provide other enriching opportunities that would be a benefit to any student.”
Spark Academy, which has the slogan “Igniting Learning through Creative Explorations,” launched earlier this month, with seven instructors and slightly fewer than 30 students. Classes are held Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., with bus transportation available afterward.
Williston District Principal Walter Nardelli said the Monday and Wednesday sessions will concentrate on the core competencies of math and literacy, while the Thursday session will have a greater focus on enrichment and arts-based learning. However, he noted that the two forms of instruction won’t be mutually exclusive.
“We want really targeted instruction, exactly in the kind of extra help they need, but then we want to integrate that and make that exciting for them to draw them in,” Nardelli said.
Spark Academy course offerings reflect the confluence of core curriculum and enrichment learning, with such course titles as “Art and Literacy Come Together,” “All-Systems-Go Language” and “Art by Numbers.”
Parks commented that while education has become more diversified over the years and has added elements outside the traditional core of reading, math and science, the duration of the school day has remained the same.
“The idea is really to get parents to look at it like the school day doesn’t end at 3 o’clock,” Parks said. “The athletic piece has always been after school, so that’s always been recognized. What we’re trying to do is to bring other things into that afterschool realm and have it be for lots of different purposes.”
Although Spark Academy has been operating for less than a month, Nardelli said feedback he received from teachers has been positive.
“The teachers said the kids didn’t want to leave. They were having a good time,” Nardelli said. “So that’s part of what we’re trying to create—that education can be really fun. It’s not just about drill and practice. There’s many different ways you can learn, and have a good time doing it.”