SPARK Ignites Hope

Friday, May 29, 2009

Honor students in an education course at UWG teamed up with Carroll County officials to provide an intervention for youths who have come before a juvenile court judge.

Honor students in an education course at UWG teamed up with Carroll County officials to provide an intervention for youths who have come before a juvenile court judge. Dr. Thomas Peterson, professor in the Department of Education Leadership and Professional Studies, Judge Dan Camp and a Juvenile Justice department official met to discuss providing a positive alternative intervention for youths ages 8 to 16 who have appeared at least once in the juvenile courts in Carroll County. Camp described many of the juveniles as having no spark or “dead eye.”

Students in Peterson’s “Investigating Contemporary Critical Issues in Education” class developed a new service project, Supporting People At Risk or SPARK. The project is now a part of the curriculum for the course.

The class project, developed to foster a meaningful relationship between a mentor and a juvenile, opened opportunities for dialogue, mentoring, tutoring, exploring, learning and examining one’s life.

During the spring semester, nine youth were referred to the SPARK program for four meetings in the College of Education. Nine UWG students quickly took ownership of developing relationships when the somewhat bewildered youth began to arrive for the first meeting. This unique intervention program is designed to provide a spark, an awakening of the juvenile’s very souls, and a sense of hope and possibility.

The project also provided the UWG pre-service teachers with a unique opportunity to identify, meet and relate to a challenging student.

The goal of SPARK was to build appropriate relationships of hope and trust while equipping the juveniles with a sense of purpose, skills and hope.

This experience served the UWG pre-service student teachers well when they become teachers and face a classroom of students. If they can be successful in this program they will be better prepared to meet some of the challenges when they have their own classroom full of students.

Over the next six weeks, the programs included activities like ice-breaking games, sharing personal cosmos, reflecting, paying attention to what was going on in their lives, and enjoying snacks in an informal environment.

Between meetings, UWG students also kept in contact and mentored their youth. They showed the youngsters around the campus, took them to campus events and listened to what was going on in their lives.

At the end of the program each youth was administered a post Hope Inventory Survey. Every youth showed improvement over the previously administered test before the program began.

“The class saw a change in all of the youth and more than just a spark,” said Peterson. “They witnessed transformations taking place. The connections formed will not soon vanish from our memory. This simple project helped to form meaningful and important relationships for both my students and the youth who came to us with many questions about life.  We were all changed and vitalized through this program.”

For more information about the SPARK program, contact Peterson at tpeters@westga.edu.