Guest Editorial Week Of 4/11/2022

Melissa Martin

What is different about SPARK Ohio?
Scientific studies have repeatedly found that explicit systematic phonics instruction is the most effective way to teach children how to read. And parents are a child’s first teacher.
Across the United States and Ohio, many programs for children from birth and beyond are funded and implemented. And many programs for early literacy and school readiness are funded and implemented. Students who do not acquire adequate language and pre-literacy skills struggle with learning to read.
The Ohio Department of Education was awarded $42 million in 2020 for a Comprehensive Literacy State Development Grant from the U.S. Department of Education to build on ongoing work to improve the language and literacy development of our state’s children.
Ohio's Early Learning and Development Standards. “Early literacy skills include children’s developing concepts of print, comprehension of age-appropriate text, phonological awareness, and letter recognition.” Visit
I perused the ODE website and did not find information on partnering with parents to help them understand and know how to teach phonics to young children for early literacy.
Where is the disconnect for early literacy for young children? Nonprofit programs give away picture books and recommend that parents read consistently to kids; explain how to help children connect the pictures to the narrative; and how to ask questions about the stories. However, when it comes to using phonics to help children before preschool (at home or daycare), programs are lacking.
SPARK is a new kid in town. A new program in Ohio. Is this program different from the others? And if so, then how?
According to SPARK (Supporting Partnerships to Assure Ready Kids), when a child enters kindergarten ready for school, there’s an 82 percent chance that the child will master basic skills by age 11, compared with a 45 percent chance if the child isn’t ready for school. Family engagement is linked to children’s success in kindergarten and beyond.
What is SPARK? A program that is a parent-focused program that collaborates with families and schools to increase children’s readiness for kindergarten, increase parents’ effectiveness as their children’s first teacher, and improve children’s transitions into school. SPARK equips parents with the strategies, supplies, and resources they need to help their children be ready for school. Participation is voluntary and free for families.”
The SPARK program provides a kindergarten readiness advantage for families with preschool-age children (three- and four-year-olds). Once or twice a month, the SPARK family meets with their assigned home visitor, called a parent partner. The parent partner helps the parent engage the child in a lesson that was developed around state standards and is designed to provide a school readiness advantage. The SPARK team (which includes school-based personnel and professionals in early childhood education, mental health, and speech-language development) works to address barriers to school readiness, long before the child begins school.
According to the website, 22 school districts in nine Ohio counties are funded. SPARK programs serve over 2,000 children annually. Every year, an independent evaluation team analyzes program outcomes. “Year after year, SPARK children significantly outscore their non-participating peers on Ohio’s Kindergarten Readiness Assessment. The SPARK advantage means SPARK kids start school ready and excited to succeed.” Visit
I perused SPARK website, but could not find any information on helping parents use phonics to help children at home. Phonics instruction teaches that there are 44 sounds made by the 26 letters of the English language.
Again, what does SPARK do differently? Does it partner with parents concerning phonics awareness? And if it works, why not bring the program to all 88 Ohio counties?

Melissa Martin, Ph.D., is a child therapist, early reading advocate, picture book author, and syndicated opinion-editorial columnist. She lives in Ohio.


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