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story.lead_photo.caption Westside Eagle Observer/MIKE ECKELS Dargin Herrera (right) demonstrates a flying kick during a TaeKwonDo exhibition at Northside Elementary in Decatur Feb. 21. Herrera and others in his class were part of the Spark after-school program at Northside.

DECATUR -- In September 2016, a new after-school program began at Northside Elementary in Decatur. Since its Decatur beginnings, the SPARK program has grown from 40 students to 80 in 2019 and continues to grow. And the activities the program offers to its participants have also doubled, making it one of the most successful after-school programs in the last six years for the Decatur school district.

The SPARK program is federally funded through a grant from the 21st Century Community Learning Centers. This is the third year of a five-year grant program.

Andrea VanSandt is the new SPARK program director for the Decatur School District. She was the Decatur District's gifted and talented coordinator from 2008-2011. Now she has returned to Decatur after moving away seven years ago. She decided to return to assume the after-school position.

"It didn't take long for the kids and the community to steal my heart, and they stayed there even after I moved on. I was excited to have the opportunity to return to Decatur and be a part of this amazing program, VanSandt said. "I am proud of the variety of clubs we offer and the fact that we are able to provide a safe and fun place for the kids to come and learn, play, explore and discover."

The program operates at the Northside Elementary School Monday through Thursday from 3:30 until 5:30 p.m. It is open not only to public school students but also to area homeschool students as well. But the program continues to expand and now offers more than just fun and games for its students.

"We also serve dinner before the students are dismissed," VanSandt said. "We average 80 students per night and are constantly adding kids to our waiting list. SPARK also has a summer program in June."

Some of the activities the SPARK program offers include a sewing club with four new sewing machines and supplies. Student members of this organization are learning embroidery. They take the work they have completed and turn it into pillow cases as well as other sewing projects. Other activities the program offers include a chess club, Yoga club, Minecraft, STEM (science, technologies, engineering, math), art, photography/journalism, and winter guard.

The SPARK program recently highlighted three of its more popular activities during an assembly in the cafeteria at Northside Feb. 21. Featured was the TaeKwonDo class led by Grandmaster Wiles from Wiles Academy of Martial Arts in Siloam Springs. The class, dressed in uniforms provided by a grant from Bridges to Wellness, showcased the students' ability to kick, jump kick and break boards. After the martial arts demonstration, the dance class took center stage for a short recital of modern line-dancing moves.

The assembly concluded with the introduction of the Bulldogs, Lady Bulldogs and youth soccer teams, as well as all the participants of the SPARK soccer clinic.

Decatur School District's SPARK after-school program continues to grow each year. It continues to help kids build their self-esteem while engaging in activities that are fun and educational. For more information on the Decatur School District SPARK program, contact Northside Elementary at 479-752-3981.

General News on 03/13/2019

Print Headline: Kids kick and dance up a storm during SPARK program at Northside

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