The School Participatory Action Research Collaborative (SPARC) is a consortium of independent schools based at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. Greenwich Academy joined SPARC in 2008, giving GA girls the opportunity to engage in studying and improving our school’s culture via youth participatory action research (YPAR), and to collaborate with graduate assistants and faculty at UPenn. Since joining SPARC, more than 100 GA students have participated in YPAR. (Until 2018, SPARC was known as the Center for the Study of Boys' and Girls' Lives, or CSBGL.)
Juniors and seniors volunteer to participate because SPARC gives them an avenue to affect school-wide change. The girls work together to identify researchable and actionable topics of relevance to them. They learn the qualitative research techniques used in social science and conduct inquiry according to accepted protocols, recommending actions and changes based on their findings.
Crafting legitimate research questions, reviewing existing literature, constructing surveys, conducting focus groups, and analyzing data are all part of the process, as is presenting at SPARC's annual April Roundtable Conference and in other venues. Since its launch at GA, SPARC students have also presented internally to faculty and students, at GA Parents Association events, and to GA’s Board of Trustees. They have also presented at a conference of the Connecticut Association of Independent Schools (CAIS) and the National Conference on Girls' Education (NCGE). One group, studying the experience of introverts at GA was even recognized by Quiet author Susan Cain; after learning of the girls’ recommendation that faculty read her book (they did), Ms. Cain visited GA to meet with the students.
Over the years, the girls have researched a variety of topics including:
- The effects of technology on how students identify themselves. (This topic has been reprised each year in varying forms, including the impact of technology on the brain, on sleep and on stress, the time-drain of Facebook and other social media applications, and the benefits and drawbacks of cellphones.)
- The characteristics of students who become (and don’t become) leaders at GA
- What the term “excellence” in GA’s mission statement prompts in students
- A study of a day in the life in a GA student