SPARK initially evolved out of a heart-felt conversation between Dr. Peterson and the late Judge Dan Camp. Dr. Peterson explains that, “I had a discussion with the late Judge Dan Camp one day about his work and what he did at the time. I was surprised and saddened when he told me countless stories of the young people who stood before him in court. He described many of them as having ‘dead eyes.’ He added, they seemed to have no direction, no goals, and little focus or stability in their lives. It was then I decided to do something to help.”
In addition to that initial conversation, students in Dr. Peterson’s “Investigating Contemporary Critical Issues in Education” class took the initiative to develop a new service project to assist local teens, which is now a part of the curriculum for the course, and serves as the foundation for Dr. Peterson’s approach to preparing his students for the classroom.
SPARK provides a new, engaging, and personal way of reaching teens through positive peer intervention for youths ages 13 to 18 who have appeared at least once in the juvenile courts in Carroll and Coweta Counties. SPARK’s mission is to inspire hope in the lives of troubled youth through an emerging developmental community-based mentoring program. SPARK also seeks to encourage UWG students to aspire to be teachers who seek authentic connections with their students and exhibit integrity. SPARK utilizes non-traditional activities through the university such as art and sculpting, West African drumming, touring, music, inspirational speakers, and good old-fashioned fun to promote a holistic connection with their teens.
The goal of SPARK is to create a space for teens to be themselves, and foster a meaningful relationship between a mentor and youth, opening opportunities for dialogue, tutoring, exploring, learning and examining one’s life.
Since 2009, SPARK has provided support to over 100 youth and their families in the Carroll and Newnan County communities. In addition to mentoring, nearly 300 UWG students have participated in the partnership with SPARK youth, and have learned invaluable instructional and social skills they can carry with them into their own classrooms. The UWG students are quick to take ownership of developing relationships with the youth when they arrive for the first meeting. This unique multifaceted model and approach to working with youth is designed to provide a spark, and an awakening of the youth’s very souls, and a sense of hope and possibility.
The collaborative partnership also provides the UWG pre-service teachers with a unique opportunity to identify, meet, and relate to students who may have challenges beyond the classroom.
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