Leave it to Virginia-Highland residents to meet a challenge head-on by trying something different.
As many are aware, the funding model for public schools across the country is under distress. While student population continues to grow at Springdale Park Elementary (SPARK), the school’s budget from Atlanta Public Schools leaves a gap in the funding needed to deliver the high quality enrichment programs our residents expect. A team of parents recognized this earlier this year and responded with an innovative new program called SPARK Partners.
SPARK Partners creates win-win relationships between profit and non-profit organizations and SPARK by establishing comprehensive, one-year partnerships. SPARK serves Virginia-Highland, Poncey Highland and a portion of Midtown and Druid Hills, so organizers reached out to potential partners that were present in all stakeholder communities. The inaugural year began in August with several different partner tiers and 25 total partners, including Whole Foods Market, Fernbank Museum and other businesses and professional services. The businesses are promoted to the parent-base (never to students) through the SPARK website, e-newsletter, signage on campus and more. More than $45,000 in cash and in-kind giving was secured in the first year from participating partners.
Organizers understand, though, that SPARK Partners will only succeed if the objectives of the business are clearly understood and programs are aligned as closely as possible to the organization’s brand positioning. Here are some examples of how this is being done.
- Thanks to its close proximity to the school, SPARK students have historically enjoyed occasional field trips to Fernbank Museum. This year, though, Fernbank is the the program’s designated education partner and the museum’s leadership is working with teachers to create field trip experiences that map directly to the school’s Common Core Curriculum. All SPARK teachers were invited to a meeting with group education specialists to design the program, and this year every SPARK class will visit the museum. Fernbank will also take a lead role at the SPARK Family Science night in September, providing the keynote address and demonstrations throughout the evening.
- Whole Foods, the top SPARK Partner, will not only donate 5% of all sales to the school on a date in the spring yet to be determined, but will also provide fruit for “Fresh Fruit Fridays” and flowers for the 5th grade Valentine’s teacher appreciation event. Through the Schoolyard Sprouts program, Whole Foods has actively helped build SPARK’s Environmental Educational program and continues to show a commitment to sustainable living by sharing materials to create waste-free lunches and more.
Several other SPARK Partner programs have launched that have gotten the collective community engaged. Among them:
- For years, Osteria and Doc Chey’s have supported SPARK through independent gifts and “dine-outs” – when a restaurant gives a percentage of an evening’s sales to the school. This year the school moved from these very ‘transactional’ dine-outs, to SPARK Partner Spirit Nights. A Spirit Night will be at Doc Chey’s during Chinese New Year this year. Students will receive enrichment in class to learn more about the cultural celebration, and will then enjoy an evening at Doc Chey’s with classmates exploring the food and iconography with greater appreciation.
- As part of the School Yard Sprouts program, Atkins Park’s Chef Andrew has worked in the garden for years with Jenna Mobley, the SPARK Environmental Education teacher. This year, we will also enjoy the SPARK Spirit Night “garden to table” style. Students will harvest sweet potatoes and other vegetables from the school garden and Chef Andrew will prepare them in various dishes at the restaurant for kids and families to enjoy in preparation for the Thanksgiving celebration.
- Established in 1922, Atkins Park is proud of its history in our community. In February the restaurant will launch a competition for students to submit a photograph of an in-town historic building or architectural detail and the winning student will receive a free dinner for their entire family. Atkins Park owner Sandra Spoon says, “We are excited to be a community partner with SPARK this school year. We want to know our neighbors and we want the neighbors to know us as their local business. Chef Andrew has a passion for quality fresh produce and works with local farmers. He enjoys his work with the Environmental Education program at SPARK, engaging with students in gardening and cooking demos.”
- Murphy’s Restaurant will also be celebrating a “Garden to Table” Spirit Night, featuring fresh lettuce from the October harvest.
- San Francisco Coffee Roasting Company supports each Principal Tea / PTO Coffee that is held at the school for parents to gather with administrators. They’ve also allowed students to use their Virginia-Highland location during the summer months as a gallery for their end-of-year art show.
- Career Day takes place in November and this year school counselor William Holley needed to look no further than the professional talent of SPARK Partners for expertise. American Roadhouse’s Emile Blau, Ameriprise Investing’s Marc Welborn, Harry Norman Realtors’ Ashley Bynum and others will be sharing their enriching career experience with students.
Another program benefit for parents is a SPARK Retailer Card, a loyalty card fob that can easily be attached to a keychain. Partners will offer different promotions that will be posted on a website and parents can visit the business to take advantage of the discount. Rich Chey, of Osteria and Doc Cheys, shared that “The SPARK Partner Program is a great way for my restaurants to support Springdale Park Elementary and all the families it serves. We often have guests in the restaurants who thank us for supporting their school. It’s gratifying and reinforces the decision to dedicate a portion of our marketing budget to the SPARK Partners program.”
Strong in-town communities have been described as having three essential characteristics: an active residential community, with safe, walkable streets and established parks; a successful public school system; and a healthy business community. Business owners clearly recognize that a thriving school system enables the next generation of our community to succeed, which helps their business to prosper in future years. As Sandra Spoon said, “we view this as an important investment in the future of this community. If our community is successful, it helps us be successful.”
Parents feel much the same and want to celebrate what the SPARK Partners are bringing to enrich the lives of the students. Mark Rebillot, one of the parents actively involved in the program’s development, said, “It’s important for the program that parents recognize the contribution of our Partners, and in turn that Partners exceed their business objectives. We intend to execute successfully so that each partner will commit again for next year, hopefully at a higher investment level.”
To learn more about SPARK Partners program, visit partners.springdaleparkelementary.org.