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Janna Spark: Adversity and Gratitude

Janna Spark studied interdisciplinary psychology courses in the Special Education doctoral program during the early 1970s, when she was offered a scholarship to work with Professor I. Ignacy Goldberg. She has never forgotten what TC and her mentor Emeritus Professor Goldberg meant to her life and to her career.

Spark, a highly creative educational and child psychologist in London, England, who is an Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society, has recently endowed an annual scholarship in perpetuity in honor of Professor.

Right after beginning her full-time doctoral program, she was, unfortunately, a passenger in a car accident and ended up going through a series of spinal operations, spending months in the hospital. Said Spark, "When people send plants instead of flowers, you know you're in for a long time."

Even in the hospital, she continued to study. "The doctoral program was my life-line. It was the most constructive way for me to get through this tough time and to keep track of the calendar year because in hospitals there are no seasons." According to Spark, "This was a defining moment in my life. My spine was crushed but not my dreams nor spirit, and it was the support, concern and thoughtfulness of the faculty at TC which enabled me to catch up, keep up, and continue." Although Spark completed all doctoral course work, due to her physical disability, she was unable to carry out required research for the degree. However, she did receive an M.Ed. degree over two decades ago from TC, her second master's degree.

Around the same time as the car accident, Professor Goldberg suffered a heart attack, and by fate both Spark and Goldberg found themselves recuperating in Florida, just one block away from each other. "In the morning we slowly took our daily constitutional. We'd walk up and down the boardwalk and go over the rights of individuals with disabilities and a shared passion for both of us were all issues involving the mentally retarded."

"Because of professors like Ignacy," Spark said, "TC is in a league of its own. That is why it has such an outstanding reputation. I wanted to honor Ignacy because he played such a crucial part in my life as professor and as a very special friend. He is extremely modest, but he is in fact a legend to some, an inspiration to many, a great man to all."

Besides testing, diagnosing and treatment, Spark has developed a unique multi-sensory program, Brain Train, published by Simon & Schuster, which utilizes music to help processing information and develop competence in tasks requiring an integration of skills. "Whether I work with children who are discouraged about a specific learning difficulty or who are dealing with an emotional issue, I attempt to motivate them in a way that accentuates their strengths and affinities and which, at the same time, addresses underlying skill weaknesses and emotional needs." Spark also interprets childrens' drawings for diagnostic and clinical purposes, and when appropriate, uses puppet therapy. Baking with children is another of Spark's unconventional clinical approaches: she has been endearingly dubbed by some as "the kitchen shrink."

Spark founded and directed a summer school in Gstaad, Switzerland, introducing a musical approach to learning to an international student body. "There are good reasons for combining learning with music, especially for children with learning difficulties. Music enhances the learning process and memory, and with music, children are learning a strategy called rehearsal. It is an enjoyable way to learn, and they don't experience boredom or disappointment. Instead, they experience success."

Success is a central theme in Spark's most recent work, Hug O' War, published by Quartet. The book includes a collection of well-known children's poems and personal memoirs, handwritten by 48 celebrities, as well as graphological analyses that concentrate on those personality elements relevant to the person's occupation and the success they have made of it. "It was an idea that sprouted from an invitation I received, at the height of the conflict in Kosovo, to lecture on 'identity' at a senior high school." Spark has donated her royalties to the children harmed by war in Kosovo, and at the recent launch, the spotlight was on Princess Michael of Kent who attended to raise awareness of the book and to support the cause. Also in attendance were two celebrities, soccer player Frank Leboeuf and actress Maryam d'Abo.

When speaking about TC's influence on her life, Spark was infectiously enthusiastic, "After all these years, I continue to be inspired by TC, its very high standards, progressive thinking and most impressive, supportive faculty. After TC, one goes out into the world with a special kind of self-confidence which comes from being tried and tested by the best, as well as having been encouraged to be leaders even while we were students, to come up with ideas and take risks in thought, deed and act. My education at TC has served me through life: having taken a wide range of psychology and special education courses not only has enabled me to serve quite a diverse population, it allowed my creative doors to open. Seemingly disparate ideas fuse into novel, beneficial approaches that are based on what we know about learning, theoretically and clinically, in tandem with behavioral, cognitive, developmental and educational psychology."

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