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School Board Approves Avielle Foundation's Spark Initiative Pilot



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The Board of Education approved The Avielle Foundation’s Spark Project as a pilot for the 2015-16 school year during its meeting on Thursday, July 30. 

The Spark Project is a program of The Avielle Foundation, and it is an initiative to develop social-emotional learning, leadership, and compassion skills on a communitywide basis and beyond, according to the foundation.

After introducing himself at the May 19 Board of Education meeting, Jeremy Richman explained The Avielle Foundation’s interest in a collaboration between the school district.

Dr Richman explained he and his wife, Jennifer Hensel, began the foundation to stop violent events and to answer why such events occur. Dr Richman and Ms Hensel’s daughter Avielle was one of the children killed on 12/14.

The Spark Project, Dr Richman told the board in May, has a leadership team that includes local physicians, lawyers, scientists, parents, teachers, and other local leaders. He also explained how the Spark project would work with the school district’s Second Step program, which was developed by the Committee for Children. The Avielle Foundation, Dr Richman said, is collaborating with the Committee for Children, a software development group called Personalized Learning Games, and the 3C Institute, which creates evidence-based programs and web-based applications to promote health and well-being, according to the company’s website, to create a software-based skill-building game.

The game, Dr Richman also said in May, is being worked on to “make it evidence-based [so] that we can integrate into the [schools], [and] seamlessly dovetail it into the [kindergarten through eighth grade] environment.”

Following that presentation, Superintendent of Schools Joseph V. Erardi, Jr, said on Tuesday, August 4, the Board of Education requested more information on how the Spark Project would integrate into the school district’s Second Step program.

Newtown Public Schools Recovery Project Director Judy Blanchard and Mental Health Advisor Melissa Brymer reviewed different aspects of the Spark Project and presented that information to the board, according to Board of Education Chair Keith Alexander.

According to Dr Erardi, the Spark Project will be piloted in third and fourth grade during the 2015-16 school year. Elementary school counselors will work to help coordinate that effort with oversight by District Health Coordinator Melissa Zigmont, he added.

“I think it is a great idea,” Mr Alexander about the Spark Project, “and I think, my personal feeling is, a pilot is the way to start just about everything.”

The school district has many “moving parts,” Mr Alexander explained, and a pilot offers a new full program  to be implemented with “tweaks” rather than a “jump.”

Mr Alexander also said he appreciates Dr Richman bringing the Spark Project to the district and all the work The Avielle Foundation’s team did to make the project easier to integrate into the district.

The school board also voted on Thursday to appoint Shelton resident Jean M. Evans Davila as Newtown’s new assistant superintendent of schools. Ms Davila will begin her duties in the district on August 20, according to Dr Erardi. 

On Tuesday, August 4, Dr Erardi said Ms Davila is a “gem” in regard to teaching, learning and instruction, and he shared his excitement to have her as a new addition in Newtown.

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