ELDON — Cardinal Superintendent Joel Pedersen got his idea to form Project Spark from an orange frog named “Spark,” a character from a book called “The Orange Frog.”
“The more things that Spark does, whether it’s gratitude or exercise — the more orange he gets,” Pedersen explained.
Project Spark is geared toward Cardinal faculty. It’s a program that helps faculty deal with stress and helps them with positive thinking. The program focuses on four areas of health: emotional, physical, financial, and spiritual. From Monday through Wednesdays teachers can take yoga classes. On Tuesday, teachers can pursue a spiritual group, and every day before school teachers can participate in a walking club.
Pedersen first thought about having Project Spark a few years ago, when he saw how stressed the teachers were.
“Being an educator in 2020 is really difficult and there’s some social media posts that says educators aren’t any good,” Pedersen said. “I tried to come up with a way to help my teachers with some of the stress levels. I’ve been watching the challenges that educators face and some of the challenges that we’re dealing with. Being an educator or working in a school is stressful and we want to value that.”
Project Spark also focuses on finding three gratitudes, “the doubler,” which focuses on involving others, and pursuing “conscious acts of kindness.” The project, Pedersen said, allows teachers to think of how they can care for themselves before teaching students.
“Sometimes I think as an educator … educational leaders don’t sometimes step back and think about our employees,” Pedersen said. “We tend to only think of the kids, which is our most important goal, but if we don’t take care of the staff then they’re not going to be at their best for the kiddos.”
“Once you can change your habits or your mind to start viewing the positives,” Pedersen added, “if I do that enough, I’ll start walking around looking for all the positives.”
He wasn’t expecting the program to be so well received, but now many participate in Project Spark, through a yoga class or through Dave Ramsey’s financial courses. Thanks to a $5,000 grant from the Legacy Foundation, Pedersen is looking at options to expand the program.
Cardinal faculty said they saw improvements in their health and were able to build positive relationships.
“It is so unique and inspiring to have a faith-based group meet at school — how awesome,” Michelle Edwards, high school counselor said. “This group has been impactful to me because I am able to get to know some coworkers that I don’t often work with on a powerful level. The closeness, trust and openness within the group helps me to feel accepted and understood. I have always wanted to join these groups, but it’s hard to do with little ones at home. This initiative has helped me accomplish that. I am excited to grow within the group and thankful it is offered.”
“I have appreciated Project Spark, because I am building new relationships with team members that I do not see on a regular basis,” Amanda Jarvis, middle school special education teacher said. “I also feel my support system is growing professionally and personally. Even when the days are hard, I look forward to attending yoga or my growth group after school.”
Pedersen agreed. “There are people in groups that didn’t even know each other,” he said. “If you’re in the high school often times you don’t know the elementary school, so you’re creating friendships with people you didn’t know. Project Spark created that impact.”
Pedersen wants to expand the program, by offering more fitness classes and more support groups. He also wants staff input on where to take the program and hopes “this program is an extension hopefully of our culture.”
The program, he said, is a way to show his employees that he cares about them.
“As their leader I care about them,” he said. “I worry about them because they’re on the front lines. And in a small way [ask], ‘what can I do to try to increase their happiness and reduce their stress.’ We’re all trying to get to the same goal, but we’re all trying to get to the same goal, by making Cardinal the best it can be.”