Mission and Philosophy

Hidden Sparks is a nonprofit whose mission is to help educators and schools nurture the Hidden Spark within each student. We do this by developing and facilitating professional development programs and coaching for Jewish day school educators to deepen understanding of learning and approaches for teaching all kinds of learners, particularly those who struggle. By working with educators and coaching internal school leaders, we are committed to increasing the capacity of Jewish day schools to address the varied needs of learners so that all students thrive.

We believe every child is unique, with individual talents, strengths, affinities and challenges. We believe in the importance of finding and embracing the “hidden spark” within each child.

We believe in the power and responsibility of teachers and schools to nurture their students’ unique academic and social-emotional abilities and to celebrate their “hidden sparks.” When we invest in and support teachers, we invest in and support the success of our students.

We believe in the importance of striving towards a holistic understanding of students, one that embraces student’s temperament, background, unique learning profile, and strengths. We further believe that teachers and schools should seek to create opportunities for all students to shine.

We believe that the process of observing, describing and reflecting on students in their classrooms deepens our understanding of students and our practice as educators.

We believe that when teachers find ways to meet the needs of diverse learners in their classrooms, all students benefit.

We believe that teaching is a life-long learning process and that the most effective professional development takes place when it is embedded in the classroom, offers teachers sustained support, is collaborative, and empowers teachers with increased knowledge and expertise.

We believe in the critical importance of involving all who have different perspectives on a child. Collaboration among teachers, between teacher and student, and teacher and parent, increases student success.

We believe schools can build and sustain their capacity to teach an increasingly diverse student body by supporting teachers through the cultivation of faculty coaches, through ongoing professional development and through opportunities for teacher collaboration.

 

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 Jewish day schools in the New York area. Now named the External Coach Program, each 5 year cycle enables up to eight schools to participate in this particular program.

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. 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. 

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. 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 offers this training multiple times annually in New York, and since 2015, in Israel too.

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.

2017 was an exciting year for Hidden Sparks as we were recognized by Slingshot for a 5th year and as our programs in Israel grew to include 9 schools in five cities. It was one of our busiest summers, running our own courses in NY and Israel, and providing a range of professional development opportunities to local yeshiva educators in partnership with the Jewish Education Project.

This year, Hidden Sparks was certified to provide continuing education credits by the New York State Department of Education, and the Ministry of Education in Israel. In addition, Hidden Sparks Without Walls saw record participation with over 800 attendees.

Hidden Sparks is honored to have been featured 6 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 69 day schools and yeshivot in New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, Chicago, Boca Raton, and  Israel.  Plans are underway to bring programs to additional U.S. cities. Click here for a list of participating schools.