CIS and Sparks for Success

Sparks for Success! Partnership Spotlight

Hello all, Lindsay Razzaz here, CIS’ Sr. Director of Strategic Partnerships. With incredible enthusiasm, I want to share a small nonprofit making a mighty impact in our school communities!  Sparks for Success! uses music therapy to promote healing from the traumas of parent incarceration.  Music, an international language, is sometimes the key young children need to unlock life experiences, scale internal walls created by trauma, and begin an expressive journey of renewed self and healing.  In the words of Dr. Debasish Mridha, “Music can heal the wounds which medicine cannot touch.”

Through a partnership with Communities In Schools, Sparks brings board-certified music therapists into Central Texas public schools.  Within two short years of our collaboration, Sparks grew from serving 6 to 14 schools, and now has a number of our campuses eagerly awaiting their services!  CIS Program Managers, school teachers and counselors talk about inspiring changes they’ve seen in youth working with Sparks.  For instance, elementary students finding new ability to identify and express feelings, regulate impulsive emotions and begin to participate successfully with peers in their classroom.

I interviewed Cynthia Smith, Executive Director of Sparks for Success!, about our partnership and how, in a pandemic, you do something as hands-on as making music with young children.  Well, she says, two therapists immediately began producing bilingual music therapy videos to share with CIS, district staff and families.  Sparks quickly transitioned to Telehealth services and began shipping musical instruments across Central Texas to students in schools and in their homes.  Cynthia brightly adds that the pandemic’s silver lining was that it “enabled us to work with students in rural areas and expand our reach beyond what we ever thought we could do.”  Virtual services also enables work with whole families, as a unit.  When providing home-based virtual therapy, Sparks requires that the siblings and caretakers actively participate.  Cynthia shares, “We have one family with 7 kids.  Our sessions guided the older members of the family in supporting a child who is having specific difficulties.  Being able to do this is really a great blessing for our therapists and our families.”

Cynthia shares that their partnership with CIS is invaluable, in terms of the ability to scale across Central Texas, connect successfully with students and families, and also in the “seamless collaboration between therapist and CIS Program Manager.”  One of our schools has a high number of students affected by incarceration, deportation and similar traumas – this Program Manager launched five Sparks for Success! student groups.  Sparks also provides one-on-one support to children suffering with more acute trauma, who aren’t ready to participate in large groups.  For instance, one five year old boy was referred into CIS after he stopped speaking when his mother was deported.  Through trusting relationships with a bilingual Sparks music therapist and his CIS Program Manager, he has begun processing these unbelievable circumstances and his emotions, and is little by little finding his voice again.  He inspires us all.

Before my interview with Cynthia concluded, I had to ask her one thing – if you could wave a wand and change anything about school, what would that be?  She replies, “All schools should be trained in restorative practices and restorative justice.  So many children get in trouble because no one asks “why?”… we need adults to ask why would a child be acting this way?”

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