“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” –Margaret Mead
When it comes to education, one size does not fit all. Teachers, educators, parents and especially students agree that the current educational model does not serve all students.
“Not every student learns the same way, and they need to have an environment that addresses their learning style,” says Lori Peters, who founded One Spark Academy as a learning center for middle schoolers (ages 11-14) after 15 years of working as a public alternative school teacher in the Conejo Valley Unified School District.
“Middle school is a tough time, which is why we focus on it,” says Peters, noting the importance of helping kids find the joy in learning rather than “burning out” from too much homework and high expectations.
At One Spark Academy, the focus is on finding out what really drives the students to learn. In fact, the Academy’s motto is “It only takes one spark to ignite a child’s passion for learning.”
“The students are finding their own style and seeing how they’re effective,” says Alejandra Abella, who teaches Debate and Romance Languages at One Spark. “Some kids wouldn’t get in front of the class at first; and then I ask them to tell me what they’re passionate about, and they get excited and are able to do it.”
One Spark’s small classes and multi-age environment embraces a “whole child, whole family” educational philosophy that honors each student as an individual and promotes an engaging, safe, healthy and connected place for learning where students feel safe and respected.
A tour of the classrooms on a typical day at One Spark Academy finds students engaged and interested in learning: giving presentations in Debate, independently and diligently working on geography projects for Mapping the World by Heart, and contentedly chopping beets and making pumpkin pie in the kitchen for lunch, as part of a Food Fascination course.
“It’s about making conscious choices,” says Peters, who incorporated a healthy food requirement into the Academy’s mission, to help teach students about the importance of nutrition and making healthy food choices.
The students eat a healthy lunch together, which is prepared twice a week by the students in the Food Fascination class, using herbs and vegetables from One Spark’s garden as well as fresh vegetables and fruits delivered weekly by CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture) service Abundant Harvest Organics.
“Sitting down to eat meals together reduces eating disorders and improves long-term health,” explains One Spark Lead Educator Laura Erlig, who teaches science, math and Food Fascination.
“I’ve wanted to cook since I was 9,” says student Sky Petrula, who plans to attend culinary school.
Hands-on learning doesn’t stop in the kitchen at One Spark. Students are currently building an outdoor classroom with funds from a city grant. Under the direction and guidance of experienced teacher Helle Rasmussen, the students made sturdy concrete benches, cutting the wood to build the frames and even pouring cement.
“We’re not just sitting; we’re using our hands and enjoying the product of our own creation,” explains a sixth grader at One Spark.
Geared as a supplemental program for homeschooled or independent study students, One Spark’s classes are taught by professionals in their field. Classes vary depending on the time of year, with signature classes including Women in History, Mapping the World by Heart, Food Fascination and Body Talk. English, math, science and art courses, as well as many specialty classes such as California Ecology, Ancient Journeys and Board Game Design round out the schedule.
Located at the Thousand Oaks Teen Center, One Spark Academy hopes to attract community support for its programs.
“Many families and students really need this type of format,” says Peters. “Not all kids want to be in big classes, and not all kids fit the mold.”
Session 3 classes begin in mid-January. For more information, visit OneSparkAcademy.org.