About Spark

Our Mission

Spark’s mission is to provide life-changing apprenticeships to youth in underserved communities across the United States.

In the major metropolitan regions Spark serves, an average of 35% of students do not achieve a high school diploma. Importantly, nearly 70% of those dropouts did not complete or had to repeat the 9th grade.

Spark is a national nonprofit that re-engages underserved seventh and eighth grade students, keeping them on track and ready for success in high school and beyond through workplace-based apprenticeships that uniquely combine mentoring, project-based learning, skill building and career exploration.

By intervening early, Spark partners with schools to reach disengaged students at a critical inflection point in their education.  Spark brings students out of the classroom and into the workplace for project-based mentoring coupled with an in-school Leadership Curriculum that emphasizes the importance of skills including teamwork, time management and goal setting to prepare students for a successful transition to high school. Supported by more than 80 hours of powerful, hands-on programming, 89% of Spark students enter ninth grade on track to graduate on time, compared to 70% of their peers.

Spark History

Founded in 2004 by teachers and social entrepreneurs Chris Balme and Melia Dicker, Spark strengthens the communities we work in through two paths: by helping underserved youth become motivated learners and connected community members, and by encouraging adults to nurture the next generation through mentoring and volunteerism. Nearly all Spark students come from neighborhoods where dropout rates climb as high as 35%.

Growing rapidly since its inception, Spark's reach continues to expand annually. Now serving students from coast to coast as a national organization, Spark expanded from the San Francisco Bay Area to Los Angeles in 2010, Chicago in 2011, Oakland in 2012 and Philadelphia in 2013.

Since 2004, and with more than 3,000 students served, the results are clear: 90% of Spark students enter high school on-track, compared to an average of 70% of their peers!

Spark Resources 

Spark’s mission is to provide life-changing apprenticeships to youth in underserved communities across the United States. Spark, a national nonprofit with offices in the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, Chicago and Philadelphia, offers a unique program that re-engages middle school students in their education through hands-on apprenticeships and a Leadership Curriculum. Spark partners with schools and workplaces in cities coast-to-coast to match underserved 7th and 8th graders with mentors working in career fields aligned with the students’ strengths and interests. Spark’s parallel in-school curriculum reinforces the link between classrooms and careers while helping students build skills necessary for success in high school and beyond. After creating and supporting thousands of apprenticeships since 2004, the results are clear: Spark students consistently gain confidence, key skills, and positive relationships, and have a graduation rate above the national average.

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