Chris Balme

Ashoka Fellow
San Francisco, United States
Fellow Since 2009
My work: Sparking disengaged middle school students to take on workplace-based apprenticeships in their communities.

Check out this video of Chris's work:

Related TopicsChildren & Youth, Education / Learning


This profile was prepared when Chris Balme was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2009.
The New Idea
By the time young people reach high school, many of those who have not thrived in the school environment quickly make the choice to leave it. Chris thus determined that middle school was a critical time to give young people the opportunity to dream about their futures, and he saw that opportunity in the office buildings surrounding city schools. Every working person’s desk could become an engaging learning environment for a middle school student at risk of dropping out of school. Chris founded Spark to build this bridge between schools and their surrounding communities. Spark matches middle school students with apprentice teachers in the student’s careers of choice and supports that experience with a curriculum that helps students make the connection between exciting apprenticeships and their classroom learning.

Spark finds the students most disengaged and thus most at risk of dropping out and asks them what they dream of doing in life. Spark then makes their dreams seem achievable by sending them into workplaces for one-on-one mentorship with accomplished professionals. Buttressed by an adaptable school curriculum, the experience helps make school learning relevant to the students. In the process, it engages adults in the education of their communities’ young people and transforms workplaces into youth-friendly educational environments, increasing workplace morale in the process.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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