KES Students and Volunteers Share Their Sparks

By Ashley Winterstein

Through essay contests, character education lessons, and classroom discussions, students across the county have been learning about the importance of having a spark. A spark is an interest, talent, skill, asset, or dream that excites a young person and helps them discover their true passions, whether they be academic, relational, athletic, or intellectual.

The Search Institute, a national non-profit organization, created the spark concept to help young people identify their sparks and encourage the community to support these interests and talents.

On their website,, researchers share that when young people can identify their spark AND have adults in their lives who support their sparks, they are more likely to “have a sense of purpose, be socially competent and physically healthy, volunteer to help others, and have better attendance and higher grades in school.”

Most recently, students in Christy Dugan’s 5th grade class at Kennard Elementary School learned that young people are not the only ones who have sparks. Volunteers from Symphony Village joined the class for a question and answer session that was filmed for viewing on QACTV.

Jacki Carter, Positive Youth Development Coordinator, facilitated the discussion between the students and volunteers and began by asking each person about their spark. Student responses included playing sports, video games, and instruments, dancing, painting, writing stories, cheer leading, and participating in pageants.

Dorothea Turek, Suzy Wishard, and Jinny Guy, volunteers from Symphony Village, shared the collective sentiment that it is important for students to nurture their sparks because these sparks could lead to a career or other opportunities in the future.

Speaking from personal experiences, Dorothea described how she enjoyed crafts as a child but followed other career and life paths for years. Just recently, Dorothea started painting again and now offers her paintings for fundraising auctions and as gifts for family and friends. Suzy enjoyed entertaining as a child and finally followed that spark in her current job as a professional clown for parties and events. Jinny also enjoyed entertaining as a child and uses her still vibrant personality during her Character Counts! lessons with her students. All volunteers agreed that their sparks have remained with them their entire lives, although dimming and intensifying depending on what was happening in their lives.

When the students were asked what could possibly interfere with their sparks, common responses included illness, injury, weather, homework, pets, siblings, and people who do not support their spark.

While some interference is unavoidable, a lack of support should never be an acceptable reason. Any caring adult in a young person’s life can be the encouragement that they need to pursue their spark. A parent, teacher, neighbor, coach, or family friend may be the support a young person needs to follow their interests and dreams.

Jacki Carter closed the session encouraging community members to be a Sparks Champion and start the conversation with those around them about their sparks. “You never know what world you are going to open up for young people,” she remarked.

There are opportunities available to become a supporter of local students who may not be currently receiving this positive encouragement. Please contact Jacki Carter at 410-758-6677 or jcarter if you would like to find out more information about becoming a mentor to an individual student or a character coach to an entire class of students in our county.

Character Counts! is a part of the Growing Up Positive campaign created through the Enforcing Underage Drinking Laws grant and all programs are a part of Queen Anne’s County Community Partnerships for Children and Families, our local management board.