Our Mission and History
Hidden Sparks is a nonprofit organization whose purpose is to help children with learning differences reach their full potential in school and life. Hidden Sparks develops and supports professional development programs for Jewish day schools to help increase understanding and support for teaching to diverse learners.
Founded in February 2005, Hidden Sparks’ goal is to increase the capacity of Jewish day schools to address the varied needs of children with learning difficulties, particularly children whose struggles might otherwise elude identification. Its inaugural program, a school-based teacher training and coaching initiative, was launched as a pilot in seven yeshivot and day schools in the New York area in February 2006. Each 3-5 year cycle enables eight schools to participate. Since inception, 17 schools have been accepted to the External Coach program.
Hidden Sparks’ philosophy and programming reflect the belief that all children learn differently and that the most effective way to help those with learning difficulties is to design programs that help all children in the school. With the goal of building long-term capacity within schools, Hidden Sparks focuses on providing teachers with the tools and teaching strategies to better understand and teach children with social, emotional, and learning differences, as well as to nurture a cadre of trained experts. Finally, Hidden Sparks aims to help schools develop and implement a system for early identification and assessment of struggling learners, supported by administrators and educators. Ultimately, schools will be able to deepen the ways in which their professional staffs understand and teach diverse learners.
In November 2007, Hidden Sparks launched its Internal Coach Program (ICP) to cultivate school-based coaches. These “internal coaches” are trained in the Hidden Sparks approach of understanding and behavior. They “shadow” veteran Hidden Sparks’ coaches and receive monthly mentoring and school-based coaching by the Hidden Sparks Educational Directors and ICP Coach and Mentor. Coaches and Internal Coaches work with teams of Judaic and general studies teachers at least one day a week in their schools. Hidden Sparks goal is to help schools build their capacity by training teams of ICP Coaches from each division of the school, while helping to support school principals introduce the Hidden Sparks approach throughout the school. Now in its sixth year, the ICP Program has graduated a total of 72 ICP coaches and is currently active in 24 Jewish day schools in New York and New Jersey. An additional 4 schools in Florida, Louisiana and North Carolina participate in a pilot program that combines an intensive in-person training course with ongoing “distance-mentoring” from a Hidden Sparks coach.
Also in November 2007, Hidden Sparks offered the School Change Administrative Leadership Endeavor (SCALE) program for principals of incoming ICP schools. This program, which ran for two cycles, provided a condensed overview of the Hidden Sparks training, and is now being incorporated in the school-based workshops.
In June 2008, Hidden Sparks received a one-year grant from UJA-Federation of New York’s Caring Commission, in partnership with the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services, to cover the cost of expansion into six additional New York-based yeshivot. In 2009 Hidden Sparks partnered with Boston’s Gateways: Access to Jewish Education and with designated funding from the Ruderman Family Foundation as part of the Peerless Excellence Project, introduced the Hidden Sparks’ professional development model into seven day schools and yeshivot in Boston. In June 2009, Hidden Sparks and The Churchill School partnered to produce an innovative curriculum called “Learning Lenses” and were awarded a multi-year grant from the Milstein Family Foundation. The first Learning Lenses course was piloted in July 2011 . In July 2010 Hidden Sparks also became a an approved No Child Left Behind vendor for Title IIA for NYC non-public schools, under the auspices of the NY Board of Jewish Education, and offers workshops and school based coaching for qualified New York City yeshivot. Also through the No Child Left Behind program, Hidden Sparks works with Catapult Learning and HigherSchool Instructional Services to provide school-based coaching in teaching diverse learners to several New York City yeshivot.
Hidden Sparks is currently offered in 31 day schools and yeshivot in New York , New Jersey, Baltimore, Florida, Louisiana and North Carolina. Click here for a list of participating schools. As a service to the broader field and those teachers who are not based in cities currently being served by Hidden Sparks school-based programs, Hidden Sparks launched Hidden Sparks Without Walls (WOW) in 2008 bringing audio and online classes, at no cost, to educators nation-wide. These hour-long classes are offered live during the evenings, providing opportunities for educators from across the nation to enhance their knowledge of the field of diverse learning, access the courses from the comfort of their own homes, and join learning communities at their leisure