The Utah State Board of Education named Lehi’s Cindy Sparks as Utah’s Amazing Math Teacher of the month. Sparks teaches secondary math at Utah Connections Academy, an online public charter school, and she is the first online teacher to receive the statewide honor.
“I’ve taught in-person and online and I used to wonder if I was missing anything as an online teacher,” said Sparks. “I get to know them well because I see what they’re doing and what part of the concepts they’re struggling with as they work.”
Cindy Sparks recently settled in Lehi after moving around the world with her husband who is now retired from the Air Force. “I couldn’t really do traditional teaching for the years we were living in other countries and moving often, so I went to online teaching,” she explained. “It’s so cool to have a job that travels with me.”
Utah Connections Academy is a K-12, fully certified online charter school. “It’s a great option for kids in non-traditional situations,” said Sparks. “Some of our students are dealing with medical issues and they would be absent too often. Since everything is online, they can work when they’re feeling good and not get behind.” Several of her high school students have full-time jobs that would make in-person classes difficult.
The high school-age kids in Sparks’ online classrooms form relationships and friendships without seeing each other in person until state testing. “There’s no prejudice among them – they’re all equals,” said Sparks. “This really is a special learning environment; it’s changing students’ lives. If a kid has trouble sitting still, no one in their class knows that. If they’re hungry, they can eat. They choose whether or not to turn on their camera. Everyone is there by choice.”
Sparks made it a goal to engage as many students as possible and let them know she was there to help them. She noticed many students were logging in during the evening, so she made her “office hours” from 7 – 9 p.m. for working students and lunchtime teaching hours for others. “I try to accommodate the kids and be flexible, but still set expectations for them. The pandemic hit these kids more than we realize. For some, this format is transformational,” Sparks explained. Her efforts have made a big difference in the high school graduation rate at Utah Connections Academy.
“I love what I do, and I love that I get to do it this way,” Sparks concluded.