by Jonathan Weaver
Last month, teachers from a dozen Head Start classrooms were trained in SPARK physical education at Armstrong County Community Action’s headquarters along Butler Road in Kittanning.
HEALTHY Armstrong received a $4,000 grant from the ACMH Hospital Medical Staff Fund in November.
Head Start Director Barrie Sperski – a former Head Start teacher and part of COTRAIC (the Council of Three Rivers American Indian Center) in Allegheny County – said she was grateful for the partnership with HEALTHY Armstrong
“SPARK is really important for Head Start children because it increases their activity levels in the classroom. It’s designed to take the activities we did as a child and add a more active component to it, Sperski said.
“Part of the SPARK pieces that we are really hoping will take hold is the home component where we are sharing the SPARK curriculum with the parents so that they can increase the at home with their children. That’s an important piece as well.”
Sperski, of Sarver, also participated in SPARK training at the Natrona Heights YMCA for elementary-age children.
HEALTHY Armstrong Project Coordinator Trisha Brice said SPARK was the right fit for Armstrong County. She said each SPARK age group has its own curriculum and Head Start’s is geared specifically for children ages 3-5.
“There was lots of different curriculum out there specifically for physical education, but looking for the top-notch, evidence-based curriculum was very important to us,” Brice said. “We were very lucky to receive that (grant funding) in order to provide this training.”
For instance, Brice said teachers learned how to use a parachute paired with music to help children learn their colors, teamwork and how to follow directions.
“That’s the best part of SPARK – it shows within the lesson what are the learning objectives through physical activity,” Brice said. “Small children learn very different than older children, and they learn a lot through movement and
“Having a three year old of my own, I really enjoyed it.”
Brice, of Manor Township, anticipates applying for more funding in the future since more students are entering kindergarten with an elevated Body Mass Index and becoming overweight earlier in life.
“What we’re seeing is about 1 in 3 kids are overweight or obese entering kindergarten – that’s up from 1 in 4 or 1 in 5 when we started looking at this 10 years ago,” Brice said. “That’s why we decided to work with Head Start.”
Nearly 240 students are part of Armstrong County Head Start.
Teachers for the new Kittanning location on the fifth floor of the Armstrong County Health Center were not able to attend since they were preparing for the location’s opening, but will be able to review programming.
SPARK PE lessons and philosophies are available to other Armstrong School District teachers.
The next step is trying to obtain equipment through local schools or fundraising. Sperski noted that Head Start teachers at classrooms based at Dayton and Shannock Valley Elementary already have access to materials for SPARK lessons.
SPARK Physical Education has been in use at Armstrong School District schools for several years.
ACMH Hospital medical staff provides grants annually for new community initiatives that promote community education and awareness of health issues.