GREENVILLE, Wis., June 18, 2014 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- SPARK®, the premier physical education brand of School Specialty, Inc. (OTCQB:SCOO) ("School Specialty" or "the Company") proudly announced the kick-off of its 25th anniversary celebration. The Company will mark this historical milestone with a series of events that commemorate SPARK's achievements, including a 25-day Physical Activity Challenge to kick off the new 2014-2015 school year in the fall.

For a quarter century, the world's most researched and field-tested physical education program, SPARK, has transformed the lives of children, adolescents and adults around the world by providing or enhancing opportunities to engage in sports, physical activity, fitness, and nutrition-related courses. Physical educators and physical activity leaders have benefited tremendously from SPARK's innovative curricula and unique teaching strategies, which have enhanced standard Physical Education (PE) and health-related practices in a variety of environments – school, home, and community. More than 10,000 workshops and/or presentations have been conducted across 24 countries, leading to more than 100,000 teachers being trained in SPARK instruction and over 1 million students impacted on average per year.

25 Years of Innovation in Physical Education

SPARK was founded in June 1989 by two professors from San Diego State University – Drs. Jim Sallis and Thom McKenzie. They received a large award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to create, implement and evaluate an elementary school physical education program that would maximize health and behavior related outcomes. This success of the original project initiated a nationwide rollout led by Paul Rosengard who was a key developer during the research project, and thus, SPARK was born.

A brief look at SPARK's history: 25th ANNIVERSARY INFOGRAPHIC

  • 1993: SPARK wins the Governor's Commendation Award from California Governor Pete Wilson and Arnold Schwarzenegger for efforts to improve the health of California's youth.
  • 1994: SPARK's dissemination effort for elementary PE programs begins and the Poway Unified School District in California is the first to implement SPARK.
  • 1995: Given an "Exemplary Program" status by the National Diffusion Network of the U.S. Department of Education. SPARK later launches outside of the U.S. borders, conducting workshops with elementary PR teachers in Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands.
  • 1996: The Surgeon General cites as a "school-based solution to our nation's health care crisis". SPARK's Project M-SPAN (Middle School Physical Activity and Nutrition) is funded by the NIH.
  • 2000: Middle School Program is launched.
  • 2001: After-School Program is launched, followed by program for Early Childhood.
  • 2004: Elementary and Middle School PE programs earn highest ranking in a study of more than 150 programs nationwide.
  • 2005: SPARK is chosen as a "Selected School-based Intervention" by the National Academy of Sciences. SPARK moves into High Schools.
  • 2006: SPARK earns "Gold" rankings for its elementary and middle school PE programs from the Cooper Institute study examining effective U.S. activity and health interventions.
  • 2008: Launches Coordinated School Health Initiative Programs. SPARK is named by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as a national model for programs designed to increase physical activity and combat childhood obesity.
  • 2010: SPARK is highlighted in report "What Works for the Prevention and Treatment of Obesity" by Child Trends, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research center.
  • 2013: SPARK adds Digital Programs to its solutions-based curriculum leveraging the rising use of technology both in and outside of the classroom. The Institute of Medicine cites SPARK as a proven solution for increasing the quantity and quality of physical education in school, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture SNAP-Ed Tool Kit endorses SPARK for the States as an evidenced-based policy and environmental change intervention in school settings.
  • 2014: SPARK receives Community Leadership Award from the President's Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition and adds to its Classroom & Recess programs.
  • 2014: SPARK celebrates 25 years of countering childhood obesity!

Dr. Jim Sallis, SPARK Principal, commented, "We have a lot to celebrate on this special 25th anniversary, including the fact that more and more active and high-quality PE programs are being embraced by our public health and education communities. It has been an amazing journey and learning experience since Thom and I first started out in 1989 as two relatively young professors. With more than two decades of published research, scholarship and program development, we have seen the powerful effects that physical fitness, sport skills and the enjoyment of PE have on academic achievement as well as the overall quality of life. I look forward to continuing on this journey with our dedicated colleagues, partners and end-users as we strive to improve the health of generations to come."

Dr. Thom McKenzie, SPARK Principal, added, "As the world's most researched physical education program, our objective has been to design more inclusive and fun courses that offer students opportunities to be more active. The last quarter century has shown the evolution of SPARK courses to integrate student-directed learning, differentiated instruction and motivational sports education. We continuously set out to develop PE and wellness programs that will help children reduce obesity risk and prevent them from potentially developing other serious chronic illnesses such as diabetes or cardiovascular diseases which in turn, present significant public health costs. We want our children to be healthy and lead active lifestyles -- that's what SPARK is about. I'm very proud to be a part of a movement that has made tremendous inroads over the years to advance health and wellness."

"For more than two decades, SPARK has worked to implement best PE and physical activity practices and programs that motivate students to participate and develop a lifelong love of activity. As we come to this important juncture in the history of SPARK, I'd like to express gratitude to past and current team members and partners, including our teachers who have been committed to the program's achievements and success over the years," stated Executive Director, Paul Rosengard. "SPARK and School Specialty remain devoted to helping both students and teachers and we are excited to celebrate this 25-year anniversary together. We look forward to another 25 years of advancements in physical education and keeping our children healthy and productive."

As part of the 25th anniversary celebration, SPARK will be teaming up with Let's Move! Active Schools and the President's Challenge, the premier program of the President's Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition, to host a 25-day Physical Activity Challenge in the fall. The SPARK 25-day Physical Activity Challenge will encourage schools to sign up for Let's Move! Active Schools and promote physical activity before, during, and after school for at least 60 minutes a day. The winning school will receive a $25,000 SPARK package, including curriculum, training and equipment.

About SPARK and School Specialty, Inc.

SPARK is the premier physical education brand of School Specialty, Inc., a leading distributor of innovative and proprietary products, programs and services to the education marketplace. School Specialty designs, develops, and provides educators with the latest and very best school supplies, furniture and both curriculum and supplemental learning resources. Working in collaboration with educators, the Company reaches beyond the scope of textbooks to help teachers, guidance counselors and school administrators ensure that every student reaches his or her full potential. For more information about School Specialty and its brands, visit

Company Contact:
Katie Fenton
SPARK/School Specialty Inc.
Tel: 800-772-7473 ext. 2212

Media Relations Contact:
Dionne Manchester
GW Communications (for School Specialty Inc.)
Tel: 212-786-6068