Model & Strategy

Spark connects middle school students to Bay Area professionals for 1:1 mentorship opportunities, increasing classroom engagement and keeping students on track to graduate from high school.
Seventh-grade students are given a glimpse into real-world experiences through Spark Labs, which brings students to survey five distinct workplaces. The students then participate in Spark Mentorship, a 13 week intensive 1:1 program where students and mentors work together to create an interest-driven project supported by Spark’s CASEL curriculum.

While Spark primarily concentrates on increasing classroom engagement for seventh-grade students, we also provide High School Pathways (HSP) for eighth-graders. Our goal is to provide critical skills and information that supports a powerful transition into high school.

At a Glance
Founded: 2004
Co-Founder: Chris Balme
Current CEO: Robin Keefe
Location of work: Domestic, Northeast, West Coast, Midwest
San Francisco, CA
The possibility movement.
Meet Chris Balme

Until 2014, Spark was run by co-founder and current National Board of Directors member Chris Balme, who taught with Breakthrough Collaborative and the Philadelphia Public Schools. Chris was awarded the Bay Area Jefferson Award for Public Service, New Leaders Council “Top 40 under 40” Leaders Award, and the Ashoka Fellowship. Chris co-founded and is Head of School at the Millennium School in San Francisco.

Robin M. Keefe joined Spark in the Bay in December 2018 to lead the Spark in the Bay’s reorganization and position the Bay Area region for autonomy from the National organization in FY21. Robin is an entrepreneurial philanthropist with a proven 20-year leadership track record of restructuring nonprofits for financial strength and mission impact. She is the founder of BookEnds, a Los Angeles nonprofit that leveraged the simple idea of an 8-year-old boy to develop 640 libraries in 48 states and 6 countries, impacting the education of more than 1 million youth.


80% of Spark students grew in social-emotional skills, including teamwork, problem solving, and communication.

84% of Spark students agree that they learned about different jobs and careers they didn’t know about before Spark, and 93% agreed that their Spark experience helped them figure out what kind of job or career they want as an adult.

At a time when average student engagement declines, according to their teachers, 71% of Spark students improved in critical competencies for successful classroom engagement.