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Students construct a robot at Willie Brown Middle School

7th graders at Willie Brown Middle School team up with mentors at top STEAM companies

12/12/16

Every Wednesday, seventh-graders at Willie Brown L. Middle School load charter buses headed to some of the world’s top companies like Google, Salesforce, and Adobe. At the company, each student pairs with a mentor and together they tackle a project of the student’s choice.

For the first time this year, Willie Brown Middle School (WBMS) became one of few schools that offers students these mentorships through the Spark Bay Area program. Spark’s mission is to provide life-changing apprenticeships to middle school youth in underserved communities.

“It’s a new school, and we recognize that it's a community where a lot of partners want to get involved to provide support,” said Francis Kevers, managing director at Spark Bay Area. “We see middle school as the most formative years for our students.”

Spark inspiring students

This year, Spark serves 120 WBMS students who work with mentors from 16 companies in the Bay Area. It’s the largest group of students that Spark has worked with at one school.

Spark Bay Area, founded in 2004, serves 300 students from schools in Palo Alto, Redwood City, Oakland, and San Francisco. Spark also is at SFUSD’s Martin Luther King Middle School.

Two educators founded the program after experiencing how hands-on mentorships can help under-resourced youth build confidence, skills, and career awareness. The program has expanded nationwide to schools in Los Angeles, Chicago and Philadelphia.

Willie Brown’s Spark

At Willie Brown, Spark is aligned with the STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) initiative. Many of the companies that students work with are STEAM-based with experts who provide guidance on STEAM career paths and projects.

“We have seen an increasing level of students advocating for themselves so they can take more away from the program overall,” said Kevers.

As seventh graders, students meet with mentors and visit company sites for 10 weeks in the fall, and 10 weeks in the spring with a new group of mentors. At the end of each session, students and mentors present their projects at the school’s Share Your Spark event. This year’s group will present from 5-8:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec 14 at "Share Your Spark."

Next year, eighth graders will participate in Spark’s “high school transitional program.” Parents and students learn about high school choices, and students build skills to succeed in high school.

To learn more about Spark, visit www.sparkprogram.org.

If you go

What: "Share Your Spark" from 5 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 14, at Willie L. Brown Middle School, 2055 Silver Ave.