SPARK Offers Safe Environment
By NIA DOVE and TAYLOR BENNETT
Not many Midwood students know that they can speak to someone else other than their guidance counselor if they’re having personal problems.
That someone would be Ms. Tatiana Rodriguez. She has been at Midwood for two and a half years and runs the S.P.A.R.K Program (Seeking Prevention and Reinforcing Knowledge) in room B56A.
As you enter the S.P.A.R.K room, you’ll see is a variety of artwork on the walls, posters about the dangers of alcohol and prescription drug use, and a banner that encourages respect. Pamphlets about alcohol, inhalants, vaping, and depressants are stationed near Ms.Rodriguez’s desk, along with booklets on bullying and relationships.
S.P.A.R.K. works with students who deal with truancy issues, skipping classes, pregnancy scares, and difficulty coping with drugs and alcohol.
According to Ms. Rodriguez,“The program is an additional resource besides guidance, social work, and services provided from a school psychologist. It provides students with a safe judgement-free zone in which they can openly discuss issues that youth often face.”
“I started going to S.P.A.R.K. last year, and ever since then it’s been my favorite place to go in school,” said Starr Brooks ’20, a liberal arts student. “Ms. Rodriguez is a great listener and she gives good advice that I do take into consideration when I approach a problem or issue in my life.”
Ms. Rodriguez attended Kingsborough Community College to earn her Associates Degree along with a Credentialed Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Counselor certification. She earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology at York College.
“The students are provided with a forum to build healthy relationships, learn coping skills, drug and alcohol refusal skills, and education regarding safer sex practices,” said Ms. Rodriguez.
Ms. Rodriguez offers individual, confidential counseling on any subject to any student who wants to talk.
Anthony Smith ’19 said, “ I couldn’t imagine my experience at Midwood without my memories in S.P.A.R.K with Ms. R. She is such an easy person to talk to. Ms. R encourages you express yourself at all times, and I think that helped me a lot.”
Ms. Rodriguez has years of experience helping kids and young adults.
“I performed as a Prevention Specialist at Opportunity Charter School and The Children’s Aid Society prior to working at the Department of Education,” she said. “I provided drug and alcohol prevention services to youth ages 11-21.”
Reannah Cousseillent ’19 said, “S.P.A.R.K has provided me with a home away from home. I know that I can truly be heard and understood in that small space. Ms. Rodriguez is a caring teacher who also takes on the role of a mother to us. She cares for us and always makes sure we are physically and mentally able to continue our day, every day.”
Ms Rodriguez said, “My experiences at Midwood have been positive. I am lucky enough to have students who receive me with open arms.”
In addition to individual counseling, Ms. Rodriguez also teaches lessons such as “Safe Dates,” “Too Good for Drugs and Violence,” and “Life Skills.” She also works with students on conflict resolution.
Of course, there have been times when students were reluctant to speak with her.
“There have been instances where students have been referred to the program due to drug intoxication or possession,” she said. “Such referrals can be more challenging, but I try to make the environment as inviting as possible to achieve a level of safety and confidentiality.”
Students are allowed to attend the program during their lunch period so that it does not interfere with core classes.
Cousseillent said, “Ever since joining S.P.A.R.K, I have been more outgoing and have made many friends. The S.P.A.R.K room is a space where you form an instant connection with people you would’ve never imagined.”