The Sterling Family
James is currently enrolled in Santa Susana High School, as of the fall of 2013
One Spark Academy is an amazing place for a middle school-age boy to come be inspired, along with cherished, accepted and assisted.
Our journey began several years ago with taking our son from a high performing, parent participation, lottery school and delivering him to a typical HUGE middle school where not everyone comes to school with the same commitment to learn and be a good citizen. Middle school is a tough time for kids anyway; it’s really tough when kids are a little different themselves and enter regular middle school from a sheltered environment.
Enter Lori Peters. Lori, the founder of One Spark Academy, was formerly a founder and charter author for Bridges Charter, a K-8 in Thousand Oaks. In looking for options in middle school, we found and loved the whole child education format Lori envisioned for the school. (Admittedly my husband thought it was a very “fruits and berries” kind of environment, but I loved it). When we met Lori, we were anxious to share all the details about our child’s learning needs and style. His poor fine motor skills prompted other districts to issue him a small typing unit instead of expecting him to handwrite; anxiety was a prevailing ailment to everything he needed to do; and social skills were troubling for this GATE kid we were raising at that time.
Lori didn’t concern herself too much with what we had been told or what other educators had done with him. She professionally observed and assessed him and, with a whole two classes full of middle schoolers, she and her compassionate co-teacher Liza went to work on educating the students in their care in the way that spoke to each of them. Under Lori’s care and passion for bringing out the best in kids, our son learned to write, and I mean the physical act of handwriting, something that no other district or teacher was willing to take time to help him with since he didn’t master it in 2nd grade. And when a gifted child can write, and procures through that transformation the gift of self confidence to write, you’d be amazed what ends up in the writing. Thinking about his transformation in writing always brings us to tears, and we will forever be grateful.
Growing pains occur in all types of start ups and Bridges didn’t escape that usual pattern. Lori, Liza and Laura didn’t return for the second year at Bridges Charter. There were other good teachers there, but we just stopped seeing the growth in our son because there was a total shift from the middle schoolers being part of a community, to it feeling like how middle schoolers typically come to school because their parents make them. Usual discipline issues and rote homework returned to this environment we had so loved. So, we followed these creative teachers to One Spark Academy.
At One Spark, our teenager’s passion for learning, and his desire to be with similarly passionate kids and teachers, was rewarded. Students there are given the tools and opportunities for learning, and have the ability to ask how they can take their education to the next level. One Spark offers a lot of hands on learning (yes, that includes writing hands too). The teaching style, along with the commitment of the students to all come and learn, allows the teachers to tailor the teaching to each child’s need. Teachers don’t spend a lot of time disciplining or having the kids doing the same things that they already understand, again and again, just because there is someone in class who still doesn’t get it. The kids who need more time get it, and the kids who need to go forward get to. These students are with people who are passionate about their lives, the world around them, and everyone’s growth, including their own. Because of this, the students react differently than, say, if their teacher is the one from the Charlie Brown cartoons. Everyone is engaged, fully.
In our particular situation, I said earlier that our son struggles with anxiety. It’s the kind of anxiety that stops him from living the fullest life possible. So, the support he receives at One Spark is something difficult to quantify. He is given compassion and he is given what he needs to feel safe and then he is expected to rise to his challenges, and he does. Whether it’s overcoming his fear of being around someone when they had a disagreement, feeling a project is too big to take on and complete successfully, feeling he’s afraid of vegetables (thank you Laura and Food Fascination!!), or leaving home to attend a trip without a parent (he’s going on his third trip now, willingly, when not too long ago we literally had to pull him out of a car to go)– these are all things my son has overcome.
His world has expanded tenfold as a result of the extra time we took and the investment we made all around to have our son at One Spark. All of the time and effort put into making him “be all that he can be” are gifts that will last him his whole life. In fact, today, I am inspired to share this story because as we were talking about the 2013-2014 anticipated entry to high school, my child asked me, “If you take Math and English in all 4 years, how can you get ahead to be more prepared for college, like how can you complete a 5th year?” I said, “Wait, you can complete the 5th year, IN college.” I asked why he couldn’t wait till college. He said he just wants to learn a lot about these subjects and he wants to get a scholarship for college.
I think it’s hard for him to articulate, but if I had to guess, I would say that he is anxious to get past the surface requirements and delve into the deeper understandings and complexities. In conclusion though, I told him I was the luckiest Mom EVER to have a kid who aspires to learn so much, and I know this comes from him being inspired everyday.
There is a lot of new thinking in education, but very little filters out into our typical schools. Too bad, because this type of education is exactly what the world needs right now. From the experiences at One Spark Academy, we believe our son’s life has been forever enhanced, and definitely changed, as he readies for a path filled with opportunities for a more joyful future.
With our most sincere gratitude to Lori, Laura and Liza.Thank you!
Bonnie and Jim Sterling