Sunset Spark’s Sunset Spark is a profiled program in the Plugging In Report.
Who is served: K–8 (mostly elementary) schools where student population is at least 85 percent from immigrant families; also students with disabilities and ELL students in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.
Number of participants: ~2,000 students in-school 2018–19
Location: In-school programs at P.S. 24, 971, 516, 169, and 131. After-school program at M.S. 136 and M.S. 821. Drop-in programs at the Sunset Spark office at Industry City
Frequency/Duration: Classes during the school day based on school needs for 10–14 weeks throughout the school year; clubs and drop-in hours.
Eligibility Criteria: K–8 public schools and community-based organizations in Sunset Park are eligible.
Curriculum: Schools decide what they need: robotics (3rd–5th grade), game development, coding, or computer engineering. Curriculum is written by the 2 founders. It’s project-based and student-driven, and they work with dual language and self-contained classrooms, and do Integrated Co-Teaching (ICT). Skills taught include computer science, computational thinking, coding (Python, Lua, Scratch, Hopscotch), and robotics.
Outcomes: While programs only became fully operational in 2013, several alumni have been accepted into specialized high schools, for example.
Partnerships: DOE (Sunset Spark works with the DOE’s CS4All effort; they wrote the K–2 CS4all curriculum). Nonprofits/companies: Sunset Park Library, Atlas:DIY, Muslim Community Center, Industry City.
Cost: Free to participants
Sources of funding: Most funding comes from schools that pay for services. Also paid by the DOE for writing curricula.
What makes the program stand out? Sunset Spark stands out for building a neighborhood culture around creative technology. The organization provides teacher training and works across entire grade levels in partner schools, including dual language and special needs classrooms. Students can also join after-school clubs and attend drop-in hours at Sunset Spark’s offices. Parent workshops in tech and child development are also available. Being immersed in the neighborhood makes it easy for instructors to get to know students’ families and stay involved with them over multiple years, said founder Gaelen Hadlett. Parents can more easily accompany their children to drop-in hours or after-school programs, and siblings and cousins often join programs together.
They’re also one of the few programs to prioritize working with immigrant students, including Spanish-, Chinese-, and Arabic-speaking immigrant students. “Kids in the class get really excited, especially if they just moved to the country and this is something they can do that doesn’t involve them having to figure out English,” he said. “We try and make it as accommodating as possible for the kids. When I’m teaching coding, if I find out there’s a kid in the class who doesn’t speak English, I’ll pair them with someone who speaks their native language,” and make sure the iPad and apps they’re using are set to their native language, so they can follow along with the lesson.
What do participants need to succeed? Most are English Language Learners and many are special needs students; all need particular types of support when it comes to learning computer science.
What does the organization need? The schools they work with are budget-constrained, so Sunset Spark will charge schools what they can afford. Hadlett sees schools’ lack of funding for these types of programs as one of his organization’s biggest challenges.