Spark lights a fire in the dropout fight

As students, Chris Balme and Melia Dicker watched many of their peers disengage from their studies, their friends, their communities and their futures — all because they simply couldn't find anything that sparked their interest in school. Others, they saw, graduated high school — and then college — without knowing what they wanted to do, or how to do it, once they received their degree.

Later, as teachers and mentors, Balme and Dicker founded Spark, a program that facilitates one-on-one apprenticeships intended to inspire middle-school youth to pursue their interests, create bonds with their communities, and develop a lifelong passion for learning.

Building on the success of an 11-student pilot program in Redwood City, Calif. in 2005, Spark has expanded to serve several communities in the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles and is now opening a program in Chicago.

Though it has grown quickly, the program's core approach remains the same: Enable students to develop as leaders and learners as they pursue a personal learning interest through hands-on apprenticeships.

And it's working: About 98 percent of Spark's participants are on track to graduate, compared to less than 60 percent of their peers, according to the organization. 

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