The setting of the study is in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) students were in kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd grades. There were students from seven schools in the intervention and comparison conditions.
In the analytic sample (n=389), 96% of the intervention group and 95% of the comparison group was free or reduced price lunch eligible. About half (49.5%) of the comparison group was female, and 51.3% of the intervention group was female. Approximately 3/4 of the sample were Black, 77% of the comparison group and 75% of the intervention group. 15% of the intervention group was Latino, and 17% of the comparison group was Latino, and the rest were designated as "other."
The SPARK Program included tutoring and family engagement. The tutoring was provided to students for 30 minutes, up to 3 times per week, for 2 years. A certified teacher oversees the tutoring, and a set lesson plan template is used by the tutors and students for each session. All students are assessed with PALS (Phonological Awareness Literacy Screening) to determine their needs and create individual lesson plans. The after-school program is based on the KidzLit program, that is built around multicultural books and follows a five part process. Finally, the family engagement component has a parent partner who works with each participating student's family, to bridge the divide between school and home.
The nature of the comparison group condition was not specified, but it is inferred that the classroom activities would be business-as-usual, and these students would not have access to the intervention group services (tutoring of the same intensity, duration, and instructors), after-school programs, and family engagement support.
Support for implementation
The support provided for the SPARK intervention and associated randomized controlled trial study comes from a U.S. Department of Education Investing in Innovation (i3) grant award. SPARK had support for program implementation by the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Milwaukee and the Milwaukee Public Schools. In SPARK, tutoring was planned and implemented by AmeriCorps members and other college students, which is an additional support structure. Certified teachers managed the tutors, who participated in a program training prior to the intervention and on an ongoing basis. In addition, tutoring observations were conducted by the certified teacher. Each site had a parent partner who worked with participants' families and conducted home visits for all students twice during the summer between their first and second years of the program. The parent partners also provided a monthly newsletter, monthly family events at each site, and connected with parents via phone and email.