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More than Just a Spark, A Transformation

“SPARK” igniting hope in at-risk students

By Dr. Thomas Peterson, Department of Education Leadership and Professional Studies

Honor students in their first education course at UWG teamed up with Judge Dan Camp and the Department of Juvenile Justice to provide an intervention for youths who have come before Camp’s bench.

Honor students in their first education course at UWG teamed up with Judge Dan Camp and the Department of Juvenile Justice to provide an intervention for youths who have come before Camp’s bench. In February, I, Camp and Bill Spears from Juvenile Justice met to discuss the possibility of 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 his juveniles as having no “spark” or “dead eye.”

Out of this meeting my students developed a new service project, Supporting People At Risk or SPARK, which is a part of the curriculum for the course titled Investigating Contemporary Critical Issues in Education.

This unique intervention program was designed to provide a spark, an awakening of their very souls, a sense of hope and possibility. This program would also provide our UWG pre-service teachers with a unique opportunity to identify, meet and relate to a challenging student—a student who for some reason has made some bad choices.

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

This experience will serve 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.

Between March 12 and April 16, nine youth were referred to the SPARK program for four meetings in the College of Education. My nine students were simply amazing as they quickly took ownership of developing relationships when the somewhat bewildered youth began to arrive for the first meeting.

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

UWG psychologists Mary Hart and Terri Frazier also offered the youth an evening of discovery of body, mind and soul.

Between meetings my students also kept in contact and mentored their youth. They showed youngsters around the campus, took them to hear guest Liz Murray, the “Homeless to Harvard” student, 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.

Each one of my students and I saw a change in all of the youth. We saw more than just a spark. We saw 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.

The last evening of class culminated with Napoleon Vela providing a complimentary dinner at the Border Restaurant. The main criticism of the program was that it ended way too soon.

If you want more information about this program you can contact Dr. Peterson at

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