In a kids town hall meeting, Denver Mayor Mike Johnston announced My Spark Denver, a new pilot program that will provide 4,000 Denver Public Schools (DPS) middle school students with $1,000 to enroll in afterschool programs. As students enroll in participating programs, My Spark Denver will invest $4 million in after-school activities.
“Many of us have a story about the activities we loved as kids. For me, my spark was soccer and theater. I didn’t become a professional athlete or actor, but the lessons of teamwork and collaboration have stayed with me,” said Mayor Mike Johnston. “While my administration takes on the urgent issues of ending homelessness and ensuring public safety, My Spark Denver addresses many of the underlying causes of these issues by investing in the wellbeing of young people now to help them weather life’s storms and build positive connections to their community.”
Mayor Johnston and City Council Members Chris Hinds and Diana Romero Campbell heard from middle school students about their interests and favorite afterschool activities. The students, some of whom are enrolled in My Spark Denver, also asked city leaders about how they’re including youth perspectives in policy-making, reducing stigma and finding joy in supporting youth mental health, and creating spaces where young people feel safe. Mayor Johnston also addressed students’ concerns on important issues in the city like homelessness and safety.
Participation in afterschool programs improves youth self-confidence, self-awareness and positive social behaviors. However, nearly 60% of parents say the high cost of afterschool programs keeps them from enrolling their kids.
“Parents often echo what the research tells us – that their child discovers something new about themselves through dance, that a new friendship is formed thanks to chess or that a kid builds confidence through sports. These experiences aren’t nice to have but critical to youth wellbeing and mental health,” said Angie McPhaul, Director of Youth Success at Gary Community Ventures. “This is a community-led effort and one step closer to making it possible for every child to pursue their passions and find their spark.”
Parents can apply for My Spark Denver on mysparkdenver.org. Once approved, parents will receive a debit card with $1,000 in funding that can only be used to enroll their child in a participating My Spark Denver afterschool program. More than 100 providers are participating and offering activities that range from art, sports, chess, tutoring, dance, martial arts and music. These offerings continue to grow as new providers join the program. The 2023-2024 school year is the first year during which My Spark Denver has been piloted. Researchers will study the outcomes of the program and advisory groups composed of community leaders, kids, parents and afterschool providers will inform My Spark Denver’s development.