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MANCHESTER, NH – To hear Denis Mailloux, Director of Spark Academy of Advanced Technologies (Spark), tell it, if there is one philosophy his charter school doesn’t espouse, it would be a one-size-fits-all approach to education.
“At the core is our mission is the belief that each child learns differently,” Mailloux says. “And rather than try to fit a student into a pre-determined path, our approach seeks to customize a plan of action for each.”
One of the newer entrants onto NH’s charter school scene, Spark is in the process of gearing up for its second year. Housed on the campus of Manchester Community College (MCC), the school had 24 freshmen students complete its inaugural year (2019-2020). This coming fall, according to Mailloux, a new class of freshmen will start at Spark alongside the now Sophomore class. By the 2022-2023 school year there will be all four high school classes (9-12) at Spark.
By putting the student in the center of the work, Mailloux and his colleagues, like Dan Larochelle, passionately believe that down the road, graduates of Spark will be well experienced and ready to take the next steps upon graduation. “Be it post-secondary education or moving directly into the workforce, we believe we’re arming our students with the tools they need to thrive,” said Larochelle. And as an instructor at Spark as well as an instructor in the Mechatronics program at MCC, he comes to the table with a unique perspective. “Much of the way we set up the student’s curriculum mirrors what college might look like,” he noted. He added that future upperclassmen at Spark would be taking college-level courses that translate seamlessly, should a student wish to continue at MCC.
Mailloux stated the school seeks to “empower our students with opportunities to master technical skills, both practical and theoretical, in the context of a high school and early college program that emphasizes the dignity and value of work.” And while there is certainly a focus on technical skills, that does not mean that Spark is not well balanced.
“Our students enjoy a diverse schedule which includes English, U.S, History, the humanities, health class and physical education,” said Mailloux.
A ringing endorsement of Spark’s model comes from Susan McGowan, parent of David, a rising Sophomore at the school. She recounted a spirited discussion at home when the family was contemplating the new school. “We weren’t even sure about attending the open house, I was definitely dragging my feet a bit,” she said. “But once I met the staff and learned what they could offer David, we decided to move forward.”
With year-one in the rearview mirror and even with the challenges presented by COVID-19, McGowan said that David being part of Spark, was “the best decision we could have made. They took the time to learn what made David tick, and built the process around him. His freshman year has really given him a chance to shine.”
McGowan went on to say that the school’s cohort concept (students are placed in small groups and participate in each course and activities together) has also been a benefit for her son and enabled him to form strong friendships. “This is very much a community,” she said. “The students form bonds and parents meet one another during events set up by the school (prior to the pandemic). It definitely has a family feel to it.”
Beyond his academic progress, David’s confidence level has soared, said McGowan. She described a project he was assigned this past spring that included graphics and an oral presentation to be done via the ZOOM meeting platform. “That type of presentation was a first for him, we didn’t know how he’d do,” she said. “It turned out he did a phenomenal job!”
As was the case with all schools in NH, Spark evolved in late spring to remote learning because of COVID-19. According to instructor Joe Pouiliot, the transition was “fairly seamless. We had some bumps at the start, but the kids adapted pretty quickly.”
In keeping with the social distancing rules of the pandemic, Mailloux said the school has planned a series of virtual open houses throughout the summer. Upcoming dates include Wednesday, July 29, Wednesday, August 12 and Wednesday, August 26. “This is a great way for prospective students and their parents to meet our faculty and staff as well as current parents and students,” he said.
Mailloux said the sessions run from 6:30 – 8 p.m. Those interested are invited to email the school at email@example.com to receive a ZOOM link.
As is this case with public schools, there is no cost to attend Spark, Mailloux added. The school is fully accredited by the state of NH.
While the pandemic has made many plans moot, there is nonetheless enthusiasm about the upcoming year in the McGowan household. “David is having a good summer, but he can’t wait to get back to school and his friends,” said McGowan. “We’ve been so happy with his progress. This school truly builds kids up.”
Spark Academy of Advanced Technologies is located on the campus of Manchester Community College, 1066 Front St., Manchester, NH. Phone
⇒To learn more about Spark Academy, please visit: sparkacademynh.org or call 603-316-1170.