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Spark Teacher Education Institute offers teacher certification in Vermont. Participants work side-by-side for an entire year with a skilled mentor teacher, learning to integrate social justice and equity content into the mainstream curriculum.

The program strives to instill an understanding of self and others in conjunction with the development of skills, knowledge, critical thinking and compassion required for creating an equitable and engaging learning environment for diverse learners.

The program produces teachers and leaders in education who engage to restructure contemporary systems. It provides experiential and theoretical preparation for transformative work in all aspects of education. Graduates go on to positions in education throughout the world, equipped for the challenges of teaching and for their role as leaders and innovators.


Professional Development

This summer, Spark will facilitate online learning communities aimed at building curricula that centers Black lives and equity.  With the goal of democratizing  knowledge, the expertise will come from  participants as they  commit to study and reflection. We will co-construct curriculum and interrogate our pedagogy to inform our teaching practices.

You will receive 15 hours of  professional development credits (that includes meetings and independent work), with the possibility of continuing into the year for graduate credits. 

Learn more and apply!

Learn About Spark Co-Directors

Listen to  Spark Co-Director Dr. Janaki Natarajan address doctoral students at University of Massachusetts Boston

Dr. Janaki Natarajan took part in the historic release of the Pentagon Papers with Daniel Ellsberg. Watch Dr. Natarajan speak on a panel at the Political Economy Research Institute. Dr. Natarajan can also be seen in the documentary about the release of the Pentagon Papers: The Most Dangerous Man in America


Spark alums continue to generate innovative curricula that challenge the dominant narrative.
Click to view and download some of these lessons. 


Nicole Awwad is a high school Academic Resource teacher. She is a graduate of the Spark program and holds an MA in Sustainable Development from the School of International Training. She has 4 years experience working  with local NGOs as a grant writer and communications manager. As a teacher, critical analysis of the world informs her practice. By inviting student experience into the classroom she works to elicit meaningful connection and build content knowledge and understanding.

Olya Clark

Kelly Juno

Nina Kunimoto is a doctoral student in Urban Education, Leadership and Policy at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. Her area of research is social justice teacher preparation programs. She is also a Spark alum. She teaches Global Social Problems and Race, Class and Gender at the Community College of Vermont. Her teaching experience includes secondary social studies and she has taught internationally in Japan, India and in refugee camps in Thailand.

Anna Mullany is a doctoral student in Public Health at the University of MA, Amherst.  The focus of her work is around the political economy of rural poverty, criminality, and health.  She also teaches courses on Health Communication and Population Health and Imperialism to undergraduates in the Public Health Department at UMass, Amherst.   Prior to her studies at UMass, Amherst she worked for 6 years at the Women’s Freedom Center in Brattleboro, VT – a crisis center responding to domestic and sexual violence.

Janaki Natarajan, Co-Director

Maresa Nielson is a 2nd grade teacher in Springfield, VT.  She is a 2013 graduate of the Spark program and has an action-research background in elementary pedagogy, with a focus on literacy.  Maresa has taught grades pre-K through 4 in southern Vermont, Massachusetts, and Uganda. She holds a Master of Arts in Intercultural Service, Leadership, and Management from the School for International Training.

Becca Polk – is a middle school social studies teacher and a graduate of the Spark Teacher Education Institute. She is working to help her students critically examine their own thoughts and the world, in order to help make the world a better place, not just for the few wealthy people, but for all people. 

Mikaela Simms, Co-Director

Patrice Strifert

Summer Institute

Spark kicks off each year with a week-long intensive Summer Institute to prepare the students for the classroom experience.


Spark student-teachers participate in two exhibitions per year where they showcase a lesson or a unit to peers, faculty and community members then receive critical feedback for further reflection and growth. Watch Asis, May 2018 graduate, talk about his work in the classroom during his Spark year.

Graduation May 2018

Alumni Highlights

Bethany Hobbs, Spark Alumni, has been teaching at Four Rivers Public Charter School in Greenfield, MA and her lesson on the Mexican-American War is featured in Zinn Education Project: Moving Interactive People’s History Lessons Online – Massachusetts Students Study War with Mexico.

Cory Sorensen, Spark Alumni, teaches at Guilford Central School in Vermont where he invited Abenaki artist, activist, and educator Judy Dow to work with his 4th and 5th grade classes on mapping Vermont eugenicists. Student work will be displayed at Brooks Memorial Library. 
Listen to VPR’s (Vermont Public Radio) coverage of Cory and Judy’s project. 

Read “Spiraling Through History and into the Future” in the Brattleboro Reformer


Becca Polk, Spark alumni, teaches at Riverside Middle School in Springfield, Vermont.


Where Are Spark Alums Today?
Listen to Spark graduates talk about how Spark influences their work today.

Atasi Das, Graduated 2009, Doctoral Candidate at the City University of New York Urban Education Program


Henry Zacchini, Graduated 2010, Social Studies Teacher at Brattleboro Union High School in Brattleboro, VT

Derek Johnson, Graduated 2013, 4th Grade Teacher at Adelphi Elementary School in Adelphi, Maryland

Ari Adelstein, Graduated 2015, English Department Head and English Teacher at Van Sickle Academy in Springfield, MA

Olivia Bregani, Graduated 2017, Social Studies Teacher at Contoocook Valley Regional High School in Peterborough, NH

Hannah Cummins, Graduated 2018, Social Studies Teacher at Four Rivers Charter School in Greenfield, MA

Spark Alum in the News

A Mother’s Silent Cry for Her Black Son by Mikaela Simms (Brattleboro Reformer, May 2020)

Let’s ask why we are so woefully unprepared for this economic disaster by Henry Zacchini (Brattleboro Reformer, May 2020)

District will seek funds to support diversity efforts (featuring Mikaela Simms) (The Commons, June 2019)

“Argument misses key factors of U.S. gun violence” by Henry Zacchini (The Commons, March 2018)

“New Feminism” by Kelly Juno (The Commons, March 2018)

“Kids Should Know Who Makes Toys” by Nina Kunimoto (Brattleboro Reformer, January 2018)

“The People Behind the Food: Brattleboro third graders speak out about farm workers” by Kelly Junno (The Commons, January 2018)

“Promises to the Peasants” by Henry Zacchini (Brattleboro Reformer, May 2017)

“Fresh Start at Brattleboro Union High School”  (Brattleboro Reformer, August 2016)