The beginning of the school year this fall saw the inception of a new extracurricular study program called SPARC. With a group of thirteen students and three faculty members, SPARC’s goal is to conduct YPAR or Youth Participatory Action Research, essentially to study the school. Belmont Hill is the newest member of the network of schools that conduct such programs, and the school is excited about the opportunity. Headmaster Mr. Schneider says that SPARC “is a chance for students to have agency in school change over time.” Belmont Hill’s SPARC class has two final goals: to present their findings at a conference at UPENN in the spring and to report results to the school in various ways. Coordinating the program is Dr. Tift who says that she’s “excited to see students lead the way in this important venture that helps our community both further define itself and seek to grow and improve itself.” The research will be action-oriented, and the group will likely recommend steps to improve the school.
This year’s class is comprised of all juniors, and have been meeting bi-weekly all fall. Mr. Schneider says that “It’s a chance for them to differentiate their experience at Belmont Hill academically” especially in their junior year. About this year’s group of participants, Dr. Tift says that they “are working hard and bringing excellent ideas to the table.” The students started by delving deeper into their own identities through a variety of exercises and, more recently, have decided on a research topic and begun a design memo. While the exact wording of the questions has not yet been finalized, the group will be researching student identity at Belmont Hill. This can include the broader aspects of mental health, socioeconomic status, and inclusion. To conduct their research, the students will learn about and employ both quantitative and qualitative approaches. They will carry out various surveys, hold focus group meetings, and do individual interviews.
Later this month, the students will hold the first and largest survey, named CASL. This is a pre-written questionnaire produced by the UPENN SPARC program and will be taken by all students ninth grade and above. Unlike many previous surveys this fall, the roll-out of CASL will be mostly student-led. The anonymous results will not only be used to focus the research of this year’s group but also guide topic selection for next year. The group hopes that students will take the survey seriously so that it can more positively impact the experiences of future Belmont Hill students and SPARC participants.