SPARK program developed by SDSU researchers celebrates 25 years

by Raquel Herriott, Staff Writer

SPARK, an evidence-based physical education curriculum program developed by two San Diego State researchers for K-12, celebrated a quarter-century of success last month.

The program, Sports, Play and Active Recreation for Kids, was founded in 1989 by Jim Sallis, PhD., and Thom McKenzie, PhD. It received the Community Leadership Award from the 2014 President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition last May along with 44 other recipients.

“It is important for schools to be involved in increasing physical activity for children, whether it be through physical education, recess, or before and after school programs,” Mckenzie said. “We were very pleased to get the program further recognition and authenticity.”

The SPARK model has impacted 24 countries by providing 1,500 presentations and 10,000 workshops to date, while receiving accolades, awards and recognition along the way.

Initially established to combat heart disease, the team studied elementary physical education with support from SDSU and the Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health.

“When we started 25 years ago, obesity was not a big health problem,” Mckenzie said.

The SPARK team utilizes their research to develop a curriculum that supplies physical education teachers and activity coordinators the training needed to help educate students about the significance of health and nutrition.

The program consists of workshops and trainings for teachers, materials and equipment, in-service evaluation and lifetime follow-up support through ongoing consultation.

“It’s like building an airplane, you first start out asking ‘does this airplane fly?’ and once you find out that it flies, or in this case that SPARK works, then you try to disseminate it to other people.”

According to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention, obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents over the past 30 years.

The CDC defines overweight and obesity as the result of too few calories expended for the amount of calories consumed. The caloric imbalance may occur through various genetic, behavioral, and environmental factors.

In 1994, the SPARK launched their first program targeted towards elementary school kids within the Poway Unified School District. By 2000, the program evolved to middle schools and five years later to high schools.

“We focus on providing possibilities to impact before-and after-school programs, recreational programs to get quality instruction for children to be more physically active, skilled and fit,” McKenzie said.

SPARK also provides a certified instructor award upon completion of 12 hours of training, along with the eligibility of earning a unit of credit at SDSU.

The program will commemorate their anniversary with a 25-day Physical Activity Challenge this fall. The challenge aims to promote physical activity for at least 60 minutes before, during and after school.