Mission and Philosophy

Hidden Sparks is a nonprofit 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. Our 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.

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.

History

Hidden Sparks Founded. Debbie Niderberg, Executive Director forms Educational Leadership team comprised of Claire Wurtzel, Dr. Rona Novick and Esther Kramer. (See biographies under Our Team.)

Hidden Sparks roles out a school-based teacher training and coaching initiative, launched as a pilot in seven yeshivot and day schools in the New York area. Now named the External Coach Program, each 3-5 year cycle enables up to eight schools to participate in this particular program, and since inception, 18 schools have been accepted.

Hidden Sparks launched its Internal Coach Program (ICP) to cultivate school-based coaches and help build capacity within schools. These “internal coaches” are trained in the Hidden Sparks approach of understanding and behavior and receive ongoing support from Hidden Sparks Educational Directors and mentors. Internal Coaches work with teams of Judaic and general studies teachers and become resident experts in teaching to diverse learners. Now in its eighth full year, the ICP Program has graduated 150 ICP coaches from 50 Jewish day schools in New York, New Jersey, Baltimore and Chicago. In addition, Hidden Sparks initiated the School Change Administrative Leadership Endeavor (SCALE) program for principals of ICP schools. This program, which ran for two cycles, provided a condensed overview of the Hidden Sparks training, and is now being incorporated in school-based workshops.

Hidden Sparks, in partnership with the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services, expands into additional New-York yeshivot with the support of a grant from UJA-Federation of New York’s Caring Commission. In addition, Hidden Sparks Without Walls (HSWOW), a webinar series serving teachers in Jewish day schools across North America was launched. These webinars are offered live during the evenings, providing opportunities for educators from across the nation to enhance their knowledge of the field of diverse learning from the comfort of their own homes. To date, more than 70 webinars have been offered and archived, with over 1700 participants from more than 140 Jewish schools in 60 cities across 20 US States, 4 Canadian provinces, Chile, Brazil, and Argentina.

Hidden Sparks partnered with Boston’s Gateways: Access to Jewish Education, with funding from the Ruderman Family Foundation, to introduce the Hidden Sparks professional development model in seven day schools and yeshivot in Boston. Hidden Sparks also partnered with The Churchill School to produce an innovative “Learning Lenses” curriculum and were awarded a multi-year grant from the Milstein Family Foundation.

Hidden Sparks was awarded the prestigious Covenant Signature Grant for excellence in Jewish education, to support expansion of Hidden Sparks into additional cities and to help support the creation of a Judaic Studies curriculum. This funding fostered partnerships with SHEMESH in Baltimore and REACH in Chicago to bring Hidden Sparks programs to local area schools. The program is now in seven schools in Baltimore and three in Chicago. Also in 2010, Hidden Sparks partnered with Catapult Learning and Higher Schools to provide Hidden Sparks coaching and workshops through the federal Title Funding program.

Hidden Sparks’ signature Learning Lenses curriculum was completed, and since then Hidden Sparks has offered five training programs to Internal Coaches, administrators and teachers.

Hidden Sparks launched HSWOW Parent Connection, for parents of children in Jewish day schools across North America with a grant from the Leo Oppenheimer and Flora Oppenheimer Haas Foundation. In addition, the Judaic Studies curriculum was completed, a collaborative project between Hidden Sparks educators and experts in the field.

Hidden Sparks rolled out the first Blended Learning Lenses Course (a combination of in-person and online learning) and established a School Leaders program for administrators. The same year, a grant from the Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York supported an expansion on the HSWOW Parent Connection program. In addition, a partnership with the Israeli Society for Advancement in Education enabled Hidden Sparks to bring its professional development programs to schools in Ramle and Jerusalem.

Hidden Sparks initiated an enhanced Internal Coach Training Program with support from the Howard and Geraldine Polinger Family Foundation. The program offers select Internal Coaches the opportunity to receive a stipend as they participate in school-based mentoring and ongoing professional development opportunities beyond their first year of training. In addition, Hidden Sparks is planning the expansion of its programs in Israel with the support of a grant from Tmura: The Israel Public Service Fund.

In collaboration with the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County, Hidden Sparks brought the Internal Coach Program to all five Jewish day schools and Yeshivot in the Boca Raton area. In addition, the collaboration with the Society for Advancement in Jewish Education deepened, and Hidden Sparks became active in five schools in 3 Israeli cities- Jerusalem, Ramle and Ra’anana.

Hidden Sparks is honored to have been featured 4 times in SLINGSHOT, which recognizes the 50 most innovative Jewish organizations in the U.S, and in the new Disabilities and Inclusion Supplement.

Hidden Sparks is now offered in 64 day schools and yeshivot in New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, Chicago, Boca Raton, and three cities in Israel.  Plans are underway to bring programs to additional U.S. cities. Click here for a list of participating schools.