Multi-Year Grant Helps Students Successfully Transition into High School

Spark supports Transition into Ninth Grade with New "High School Readiness Initiative" for Middle Schoolers

$1.2 million in funding enables Spark to help more than 4,000 underserved students across four major metropolitan regions successfully transition to high school

Spark announces $1.2 million in funding from the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation to support its High School Readiness and Transition Initiative. The project will serve 4,100 students in its first three years, enabling Spark tosupport middle grades students in selecting good high schools and transitioning well into the ninth grade.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, Chicago and Philadelphia, Spark works with underserved seventh and eighth grade students showing early warning signs of disengagement that could eventually lead to dropping out of school. The program isdesigned to keep these students engaged, on track and ready for success in high school and beyond. Spark combines project-based learning apprenticeships – led by mentors in their workplaces – with skill-building curriculum focused on social-emotional competencies. Data show that Spark students enter high school more prepared than their peers.

The grant from Dell family foundation will support Spark in refining and scaling a major part of its programming that aids middle grade students in the high school transition 

process. The programming includes counseling workshops to help students examine their high school options; a dynamic high school database plus resource guides with step-by-step processes for high school application and enrollment; sessions covering the social and emotional aspects of high school transition; monthly check-ins and a peer support system between younger and older Spark alumni. The goal of the High School Readiness and Transition Initiative is to help young adolescents select high schools that are a good fit for them, successfully navigate the tough ninth grade year and ultimately graduate on time with a greater likelihood of college enrollment. 

“The Michael & Susan Dell Foundation’s funding stands to be transformative for Spark, helping us fill a critical need in the education space to provide more intentional suppor

t for students transitioning from the middle grades into high school,” said Jason Cascarino, Spark’s Chief Executive Officer. “After piloting this Initiative in Chicago in partnership with Chicago Public Schools, we are excited to have the long-term, capacity-building support from the foundation to bring this successful formula to more students nationwide.”

“Spark has shown promising outcomes in preparing students for high school, which is an essential ingredient on the path to college,” said Todd Penner, Program Officer at the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation. “We are excited to see Spark students continue to grow and improve throughout their high school years, with greater likelihood of attending college. Spark’s program aligns well with the Foundation’s College Preparation and Completion portfolio, which supports entities nationally that are increasing the number of low-income students that are ready for, enrolling in, and finishing college with a Bachelor’s degree.”



Spark inspires 7th, 8th and 9th grade students to succeed in high school and beyond by connecting them with mentors in leading workplaces and supporting their academic journey with skill-building and resources. By engaging working professionals and connecting businesses with local communities, Spark empowers the next generation to perform better in school, graduate on time and lead fulfilling careers and lives.

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