A spark can light the fire of interest

Published 8:34 am Wednesday, February 21, 2018

By Jennifer Lawhead

Executive Director, Austin Aspires

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” Howard Thurman

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What makes you come alive?

In our collaborative work with the SEARCH Institute, we have learned that the interests and passions people have that light a fire in their lives and express the essence of who they are and what they offer the world are called “sparks.”

Research has revealed that students who identified their sparks and whose sparks were supported, had positive behaviors in the areas of attendance, academics, avoidance of violence and adaptability. Sparks also help build a foundation for school success as they contribute to resilience and well-being. The top nine sparks as identified by SEARCH Institute are as follows: Creative Arts, Athletics, Subject Matter, Reading, Serving, Leading, Caring for Animals, Nature and Spirituality.

Austin Aspires, in collaboration with Austin Public and Pacelli Catholic schools, has surveyed students in grades fifth, seventh, and ninth on many topics including “sparks.” This past fall, 26 percent of students indicated that they were able to connect their sparks to what they were learning, providing us insight on how youth perceive the connection between what they are learning in the classroom to their interests. Another question measured the degree to which students actively develop their talents and learn about their interests, which 49 percent of students indicated they were able to develop their spark. Finally, 32 percent of students indicated that they were able to share their spark with others.

What does that mean to the adults in our community? First, identify your own spark. What interests you and lights a fire in you? What passion do you have that is your offer to the world? Next, look for ways to protect and nurture the sparks in the young people in your life.

As we think about the sparks in our young people, please consider some thoughts from author Rob Bell. In a recent podcast he talked about the tradition of lighting candles on a birthday cake. We have all done this. First, we light the candles. Then, we lift the cake to bring to the location where we will sing to the birthday star. As we carry the cake to the next room we instinctively hold our hand over the candles to protect the flame. It’s done without thinking because we don’t want the flame to go out. There is limitless possibility in that flame, and yet it must be carefully guarded. In the same way, we need to make sure that the sparks of the young people in Austin are ignited and guarded by all of us.

Follow us on social media over the next few months to learn more about sparks. You can also find more information on our web page, www.austinaspires.org.