The Sports, Play, and Active Recreation for Kids (SPARK) team of researchers and educators are focused on growing a healthier next generation of children1 through the development of healthy lifestyles, social and personal skills, motor skills, and movement knowledge.2 In 1989, they began to evaluate, create, and implement new approaches to elementary physical education.3 Supported by the San Diego State University and the Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health, the SPARK PE program was developed and then tested in classroom situations with both physical education specialists and classroom teachers.

By 1993, the refined SPARK PE was being marketed to schools and school districts. That same year, SPARK PE was validated and recognized as an “Exemplary Program” by the National Diffusion Network of the U.S. Department of Education and also awarded the Governor's Commendation by Governor Pete Wilson of California. Later, in 2006, it earned the “Gold” rank from the Cooper Institute, which ranks U.S. activity and health interventions.4

The SPARK PE program includes two elementary aged programs, the K-2 PE and the 3-6 PE, a Middle School PE, and a High School PE. Designed to be “more inclusive, active, and fun than traditional PE classes,” SPARK PE includes a full curriculum, staff development and support, and equipment.5

Seeking to expand the SPARK PE program influence to “out of PE” settings, the SPARK After School (AS) Physical Activity Program was created after four different research projects that involved urban faith-based centers, YMCAs, middle school campuses, Boys and Girls Clubs, and Parks and Recreation programs. The SPARK AS is formulated for youth aged 5-14 and seeks to “include ALL youth, actively engage ALL youth, and instill the love of lifelong movement in ALL youth.”6

The SPARK Early Childhood (EC) Program was developed for and through a 1997-2000 University of Tennessee, Memphis and San Diego State University study of 100 Title I Early Childhood classes, one of the first large scale evaluations of a comprehensive physical activity program for children aged 3-5 years old. The resulting program was further tested in three New York City neighborhoods through the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. After ten years of research and program implementation, the final SPARK EC provided age-appropriate high activity, academically integrated movement opportunities for Head Start, WIC, and public and private day care centers.7

Beginning in1993, SPARK programs were offered through the San Diego State University Research Foundation. In 2002, the license to distribute SPARK programs was transferred to School Specialty Inc., a publicly traded company that markets educational resources for educators.8

Focusing on healthier lifestyles, in 2008, SPARK began developing and field-testing their Coordinated School Health Initiative (CSHI). Besides their physical education programs, through CSHI SPARK now offers four new programs: Ignite a Healthy Environment, Wellness for Staff, Nutrition Services, and Health Education. These CSHI programs follow SPARK's message of “Select fruits and vegetables, Play actively, Avoid excess sugar and fat, Reduce TV/media time, Keep H2O the way to go.”9

Child Trends, the National Academy of Sciences, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Health Services for Children (HSC) Foundation have recognized SPARK programs as effective in combating childhood obesity. The U.S. Surgeon General also declared SPARK programs a “school-based solution to our nation's health care crisis.”10

  • 1. “FAQs.” SPARK. < > 17 Aug. 2011.
  • 2. “Spark Objectives.” SPARK. < > 17 Aug. 2011.
  • 3. “About Us.” SPARK. 17 Aug. 2011.
  • 4. Ibid.
  • 5. “Physical Education.” SPARK. < > 17 Aug. 2011.
  • 6. “After School.” SPARK. < > 17 Aug. 2011.
  • 7. “Early Childhood.” SPARK. < > 17 Aug. 2011.
  • 8. “School Specialty.” SPARK. < > 17 Aug. 2011.
  • 9. “Coordinated School Health Initiative.” SPARK. < > 17 Aug. 2011.
  • 10. “Awards & Honors.” SPARK. < > 17 Aug. 2011.