"I didn't learn these things until my first year in college!" Ken Hayes said as he describes his architecture apprenticeship with Carlos, a 7th grade Spark student doing his second apprenticeship in architecture. Ken, of the Ken Hayes Group, has been in business for over a decade and helped Carlos deepen his knowledge of house foundations and structures. In fall 2009, Carlos designed the exterior of a dream house for his mother.

"It's my dream to build my mother a unique house, a house not like any others," Carlos said.

Through his Spark apprenticeship, he learned to design a house with more than just aesthetics in mind. He learned how to build solid foundations, and ensure that a house will stand up to a potential earthquake.

The relationship between Ken and Carlos was established by Spark, an organization founded by Ashoka Fellow, Chris Balme. The Spark model aims to provide middle school students at greatest risk of dropping out with a personalized apprenticeship that gives them a fun and different learning experience in a new environment, allows them to develop tangible skills in an area of interest, and helps them see the relevance of  their classroom learning. At the same time, it builds community accountability for the education of young people and shifts adult perceptions of “lost cause” kids. Essentially, it rests on the idea that every working person’s desk could become an engaging learning environment for a middle school student at risk of dropping out of school.

The program has been extremely successful, matching middle-school youth with professionals in a range of fields and equipping them with a skill set to achieve their dreams. The result: a new generation of youth, empowered to achieve their goals with a mentor to support them. Mentors benefit as well, by establishing a connection with individual members of the community a mentor is able to expand their work in the community and feel more connected to those they serve.

Fostering community while facilitating the realization of childhood dreams – sounds like a win:win to us.

This article was originally published on 21 June 2010
Related TopicsBusiness & Social Enterprise Social enterprise Children & Youth Non-formal education Youth development

Joelle Murphy
Joelle Murphy was an Ashoka US Summer Associate.

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