by Katherine Rickard

SPARKS is a summer program for gifted children offered by Jeffco Public Schools. It started in 2011 with 100 children. In 2012 there were 200 children participating. This year it was again held at Wheat Ridge 5-8 and drew 325 children! While the dry statistics may tell the story by themselves, my 7-year-old daughter and two of her good friends attended SPARKS this year for the first time. Their, as well as my own, personal experiences and the observations of others shared with me really confirmed the value of this program.

My daughter enjoyed her Creative Sculpture class making a paper mache sea turtle, currently her favorite animal. I, however, was very impressed with the poems she created in Wondrous Words. Every day when I picked up my daughter, I would get a full blown run down of every class . . . in order. “We learned about self-portraits and one of the artists put her face on a deer so I got the idea to put my face on a sea turtle!” And where else can you make blood out of Red Hots? She thoroughly enjoyed all of her classes: Wondrous Words, Young Movie Making, Science Experiments You Can Eat/Culinary Creating, and Creative Sculpture.

My daughter’s 10-year-old friend, an avid reader, took the class Finding Your Patronus (Harry Potter) and greatly enjoyed analyzing books so thoroughly. She had never experienced that before and found it very enlightening. She also enjoyed making intricate wood wands for their Share Fair display.

A 7-year-old friend of my daughter really enjoyed her Fiber Arts and Textile Design class, having made a tapestry using different fabrics and different stitches. One evening a button fell off of her sister’s shirt.  Confident of her new skills, she said, “I can sew that back on for you!”

A mother shared her boys’ experiences: In Advanced Animal Robotic Creations, her 10-year-old son built and programmed a walking, biting alligator with a partner and a ‘Litter-bot’ with the left over pieces.  Her 6-year-old son built a dragster in Robotics & Engineering. He couldn’t stop talking about how much he had learned from his older partner who did most of the programming, not to mention how much fun the two shared.

The mother of a 5-year-old noted that her daughter had been dressed and in the car ready to go early every morning since the second day. The mother of a 7-year-old told me her daughter said, after the first day of SPARKS, “I want to go to bed now. I have camp tomorrow!”

Another mom told how her boys were touting the Robotics and Everything Science classes. The younger boy was apprehensive because it was his first year and on his first day at SPARKS he said, “Mommy, I’m only going to go the first week.” But by the end of the week and several really cool science experiments later, he said he wanted to go the full day instead of just the morning session and couldn’t wait for next year! Her oldest son was one of only two boys in Curtain Call, but he most thoroughly enjoyed the teacher, the acting lessons, and playing the role of ‘Prince Charming’ when his group put on a wonderful production of Cinderella on the last day.

The classes noted above are just a few of the many offered at SPARKS each year and it seems that the children truly enjoyed the experienced teachers and high school helpers. One mom mentioned that the only downside was that her son wanted to do several of the classes and couldn’t fit them all into what seemed like a very short two-week session. Another downside from several youngsters’ points of view was that recess wasn’t very fun because there is only a small playground there. Well, Middle School will be a bit of a shock to them when it comes, won’t it? But the kids did enjoy the mystery of the included lunches . . . not knowing what would be served each day.

The last day of camp was the Share Fair, a wonderful way for parents to see what their kids created the previous two weeks. It was also a great opportunity to see what other kids did and see what projects other classes created. It was hard to get my 3-year-old son away from the robotic displays made in the Advanced Animal Robotic Creations and Robotics & Engineering classes! My husband ended up staying for the whole Share Fair, and afterwards commented that SPARKS was a good find for our daughter.

For the first time, parent classes were offered at SPARKS this year. I took both “Nurturing Your Child’s Creativity: Tips for Parents” and “Love & Logic Parenting: Easy Tips and Techniques for Gifted Kids.” Both classes were taught by Dr. Richard Shade, an internationally known author, consultant, and educator who also happens to be a Resource Teacher for the Jeffco Gifted and Talented Program. I found both classes very helpful. Creativity is something most businesses want, and something our educational system on the whole doesn’t address. This class helped us understand what creativity is and ways to foster it in our homes. Probably the main point I learned: How the word “no” is the quickest way to squash creativity. I have to remember what my mother told me long ago, “I never told you kids ‘no’ unless I had a good reason.” The Love & Logic class was very helpful as well. I had never taken a class in this before and it opened up a new way to think about addressing our children. The basis of Love & Logic is: Love allows children to grow through their mistakes. Logic allows children to live with the consequences of their choices. I have been struggling with my 3-year-old son . . . but then who doesn’t struggle with a 3-year-old! I am excited to try the techniques I learned and see if I get better results. Certainly what I’m doing now isn’t working!

My daughter and her friends had an incredible experience, as did the children of every parent I talked with. They really enjoyed the atmosphere of the program. And from a parent’s point of view, I can’t express the joy in watching my child's mind expand with creativity and excitement. The day before the Share Fair, as we drove to SPARKS, my daughter said, “I want to go to SPARKS next year and I want to try the Fiber Arts and Textile Design class!” That pretty much says it all.

  88x31 KATHERINE RICKARD        This article used with permission.