Virtual Open House Aug. 26: Spark Academy combines classroom lessons, real-world experience

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Spark Academy of Advanced Technology has one primary mission: to educate and challenge its students.

Spark Academy is a public charter high school for students in grades 9-12. The school is currently enrolling students for 2020-2021 academic year and are holding a virtual open house on August 26 where prospective students can meet with faculty, staff, and current students. Email for your Zoom link. 

MANCHESTER, NH – Spark Academy instructor Dan Larochelle is blunt in his assessment of job prospects for those interested in the technical and manufacturing fields.  “I hear it over and over again from employers I talk to, they say we literally can’t create enough technicians to meet current needs.”

Denis Mailloux, Director of Spark Academy of Advanced Technology

One of Spark’s founders as well as a faculty member at Manchester Community College (MCC), Larochelle works to connect his students in both programs to the working world alongside classroom sessions and assignments.  This dual experience has provided him with a front-row seat in aligning academics with technical skills.  Add to that his many interactions with local companies such as Hitchiner Manufacturing and ARMI (Advanced Regenerative Manufacturing Institute) who are on the leading edge of technology and manufacturing and you get some excellent insights into employment possibilities in the sector.

“Our sole focus is on the development of our students’ technical skills through a program that teaches the highly specialized knowledge that they will need to succeed in our increasingly technical world,” said Larochelle.  At Spark, a public charter high school which is housed on the campus of MCC, this means “our kids work through a curriculum designed in concert with the college’s curriculum for technical studies.”  Larochelle, who teaches Mechatronics at MCC adds that by integrating the MCC model, students are benefitting from a “tried and true approach” of learning.

According to Spark’s Director Denis Mailloux, the charter school seeks to both educate and challenge its students.  “We use the words ‘real-world standards’ a lot here,” he noted.  “Some students will go on to secondary education after graduating from here, others will go directly into the working world.  Still others may likely gain the skills and competencies during their high school experience to begin rewarding part-time jobs.”

The fall 2020 school year will be a mix of in-person and remote learning.

Larochelle uses the term “new collar worker” when referring to the current need for employees in the manufacturing and technology fields.  “Because the field is rapidly changing, we want to give our students as many tools in their toolboxes as we can.  We also combine live and virtual field trips to local manufacturers with classroom learning.  This exposes them to the field and the variety of career paths open to them.”  In addition to the field trips, Larochelle said the school is working to develop internships to further deepen the student’s appreciation and understanding of the field.

The Academy opened last fall and Mailloux and his team are in the midst of preparing for year two, which will feature a combination of in-person and remote learning [read Spark’s COVID-19 protocols here] due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Spark’s enrollment will likely double in size with freshman and sophomores now in the program.  By the 2022-2023 school year, all four grades will be up and running.  He said last year’s inaugural group of students –all freshmen – transitioned smoothly when in-person learning shut down in March.  He added that experience will help when they begin classes next month and welcome a new class of freshmen.

There is a great need for ‘new collar’ workers in a rapidly changing tech-driven workforce.

“We strongly view this (COVID-19) as a challenge and opportunity,” Mailloux says. “The pandemic has challenged all of us, but it has also brought people together. Challenge causes us to grow and is a significant element of our curriculum.”

He added this “productive struggle” is one that he and his colleagues want Spark students to embrace.  “We combine learning with a work ethic toward building a mindset.”

One of the many things which motivates Larochelle is when his students put theory and practice together.  “In some cases, our students come into something new and wind up excelling at it, they discover a talent or skill they didn’t realize they had.”    

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