Captain SPARKs Partnership at Local School

Senior Ricardo Francis works to inspire others through Newport News Public Schools Enrichment Program.

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Communication major Ricardo Francis '18 is fresh off a stint assisting teachers and administrators at nearby Epes Elementary School. It’s an opportunity he discovered through a program called Summer Program for Arts, Recreation and Knowledge (SPARK).

SPARK joins Newport News Public Schools (NNPS) with local businesses, museums, nonprofit organizations and city agencies to provide several free enrichment programs to NNPS students. Programs include reading and math camp, college readiness, athletics and recreation, career-readiness, and museum field trips.

Francis facilitated the day-to-day functions of these programs, helped teachers in science, technology, engineering and math activities, and developed systems of organization for inventory. “A defining characteristic of the position is the ability to work independently,” Francis says. “The position involves working with children, so a level of excitement, creativity and patience is also necessary.”

Mary Best, lecturer in CNU’s Department of Communication, says Francis not only accomplished much for himself through his work, but also made a real difference. “Rico has completed a comprehensive independent research course related to his partnership with NNPS. He also has been awarded a Ferguson Fellowship for social entrepreneurs to further his commitment to at-risk students in the public schools. Rico is working to create solutions to secure a better society,” she says.

Michelle vanDuursen, SPARK administrator, says, “I worked closely with Rico, and was extremely impressed with his work ethic, relationship-building skills, and drive. We were so lucky to have him.”

For Francis, the experience was not the start of his partnership with the Newport News school system. In fact, he has worked with NNPS since his freshman year at CNU. “The school system has provided me the resources and mentorship to develop my skills in account management, public relations, marketing and most importantly community partnership,” he says.

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