Spark Video Pageblock

New for 2017!

Cutting-Edge Offerings for Leapfrog & Spark Students:


Application Process and Requirements

Applications are opened using MyCTD, the online course application system. Applicants are encouraged to apply early; many courses begin to fill as early as mid-March. Complete applications are reviewed as they are received starting January 4. Courses are filled on a first-come, first-served basis. For Spark, full tuition must be paid at the time of application.

You will need a credit card to open an application. It's best to prepare all necessary supporting documents (e.g. test score report, report card) for the application in advance. Applicants will be emailed a confirmation that they have opened an application. The parent email address provided in the online application will be used for CTD communication.

Once the Spark course application is completed, meaning all supporting documents have been received and all fees have been paid, it is reviewed by admissions staff. When an admission decision is made, CTD will notify the applicant by email. The process takes approximately four weeks from the time a completed application is received. Incomplete or unpaid Spark applications are not reviewed. Incomplete applications do not "hold a spot" in the desired course.

In MyCTD, choose one of the following types of applications.

New Scores Applicants

  • Upload qualifying scores on a nationally normed standardized test taken within the last two years. See Eligibility Requirements for details.
  • Students with qualifying scores no more than two years old from CTD testing programs, either from NUMATS or from PreK through Grade 3 Testing, do not need to upload score reports in the online application. Admissions staff can access scores on tests administered through CTD.

Returning Student/Recent Participant Applicants

  • No additional scores, report cards, or recommendations are required if the student has successfully completed a CTD course within the last two years and the student is applying for a course in an eligible subject area. Participation in CTD programs that do not have eligibility requirements, such as GLL Family Courses and Challenge Lab, do not qualify students as returning or recent participants in Spark.

Admission Portfolio Applicants

  • Upload a current report card or progress report and have the student's classroom teacher complete the online recommendation form.

Eligibility Requirements

Spark courses are designed for students who are in third or fourth grade as of January 1, 2017 and who demonstrate exceptional academic ability and a strong interest in learning. Families should apply for courses that are in their student's subject area of greatest strength and interest. The focus of the program is on advancing higher-order and creative-thinking skills in students' talent areas. Courses are fast-paced and the curriculum is designed for students who function at least one or two grade levels above their chronological grade placement.

Spark admission criteria vary by subject area and previous participation, as detailed below.

  • For English & Language Arts courses: Students must have a verbal or reading score in the 90th percentile or above on an in-grade, nationally normed standardized achievement test taken within the last two years.
  • For math courses: Students must have a quantitative or mathematics score in the 90th percentile or above on an in-grade, nationally normed standardized achievement test taken within the last two years.
  • For science or technology courses: Students may qualify with a quantitative/math or verbal/reading score in the 90th percentile or above on an in-grade, nationally normed standardized achievement test taken within the last two years.
  • Note: if your child's test score report does not include a national percentile rank (NPR), please ask your school administrator whether or not the information is available.
  • For returning CTD students: Those who have successfully completed a CTD Spark, Weekend Enrichment Program, or Leapfrog course in the last two years in a subject area with the same eligibility requirements may apply as recent participants.
  • For students who do not have qualifying test scores: Submit an Admission Portfolio, which consists of a current report card or progress report and a teacher recommendation, each demonstrating achievement in the subject area or skill set of the desired course(s).
  • For NUMATS participants: Students who participate in Northwestern University's Midwest Academic Talent Search (NUMATS) in grade 3 or 4 may use EXPLORE® or PSAT™ 8/9 test scores to qualify for Spark courses. Since both tests are above-grade-level tests, students do not need to score in the 90th percentile on the EXPLORE® or PSAT™ 8/9 subtests to qualify, though CTD staff reserve the right to request additional information to make an admission decision.

Acceptable Tests for Determining Eligibility

Spark students who have not been tested through CTD may apply using qualifying scores on other nationally normed tests including those listed below. Please note that because achievement tests are preferred, cognitive ability tests may require additional documentation.
  • Stanford Achievement Test
  • Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS)
  • Cognitive Abilities Test (CogAT)
  • Terra Nova Test
  • ERB Tests: Comprehensive Testing Program, Independent School Entrance Exam
  • Northwest Evaluation Association Tests (NWEA): Measures of Academic Progress (MAP), MAP for Primary Grades
  • Kaufman Test of Education Achievement (KTEA)
  • Woodcock-Johnson Test
  • Otis-Lennon School Ability Test (OLSAT)
  • Wechsler Intelligence Tests (WISC, WIAT)
  • Peabody Individual Achievement Test (PIAT)
  • California Achievement Test
  • School and College Abilities Test (SCAT)
  • Any other achievement test with a National Percentile Rank (NPR %)

Please note: Because the PARCC test is still in the early stages of administration and is not a nationally normed assessment, CTD does not accept PARCC scores from new applicants. New applicants may provide scores from another assessment taken up to two years ago. For those who ONLY have PARCC scores, we advise the following:

  • register for an above-grade-level assessment through NUMATS (grades 3 and 4)
  • register for young student assessment through CTD (grade 3)
  • apply with the Admission Portfolio

Deadlines and Course Availability

The Spark enrollment period begins on January 4, 2017. The enrollment period will close on June 10, 2017. June 10 is also the deadline for full fee refunds (minus a $60 withdrawal processing fee).

Spark applications are reviewed in the order received when complete and paid. A course listed as available online at the time an application is completed may be filled before that application is processed due to the queue of applications awaiting review by admissions staff.

Financial Aid Opportunities

Note: The 2017 CTD Summer Program Financial Aid deadline has passed.

CTD offers financial aid based on demonstrated financial need using a separate financial aid application. The application period for financial aid begins January 4, 2017 and closes April 14, 2017. Awards range from partial to full tuition for one course and are based on family income and extenuating circumstances such as job loss or unforeseen medical expenses. Most families awarded aid have a total household annual income of less than $50,000. Funds are limited and awards are made as complete applications are reviewed. Families are encouraged to apply early.

To be considered for financial aid:

  • First, complete the CTD online course application, because financial aid applications are only reviewed for accepted students. This means that you must have provided all necessary supporting materials, such as test scores or a grade report and teacher recommendation, to complete the online application.
  • A $60 deposit is required to complete the online course application. The deposit will be refunded if the student is not admitted or if financial aid is not sufficient for the student to participate in the program.

When a student has been accepted and a financial aid award is offered, any remaining balance for tuition costs will be indicated in MyCTD. Tuition balances must be paid by June 10, 2017.

Gary Greenberg Technology Scholarship

Students with financial need applying for Spark technology courses may apply for a Gary Greenberg Technology Scholarship using a separate online application. The application is due by April 14, 2017 and includes an "essay" to be complete with the help of parents, but with the ideas of the student. Essays should tell why students are excited about the course and one thing they want to learn from it. Essays may be in written form, including a drawing, or they may be a brief (30-second) audio or video file. For families not using the regular online financial aid application, a brief (1–2 paragraphs) statement of need by a parent or guardian is also required.

Eligible Spark technology courses are Girl Power Web Design and Intro to AI.

Site Locations

Spark courses are offered at the sites listed below. Use the Explore Courses tab at the top of this page to find specific course offerings at each location.

GEMS World Academy
350 East South Water Street
Chicago, Illinois
Before and after care options available at the Chicago site.

Elmhurst College
190 South Prospect Avenue
Elmhurst, Illinois

Roycemore School
1200 Davis Street
Evanston, Illinois

Lake Forest
Lake Forest Country Day School
145 South Green Bay Road
Lake Forest, Illinois

Saints Peter & Paul School
201 East Franklin Avenue
Naperville, Illinois

Quest Academy
500 North Benton Street
Palatine, Illinois


Spark courses are all-day, weeklong explorations with a maximum of 18 students. Experienced instructors and teaching assistants work together to get to know students, encourage their talents, and engage them in hands-on activities and challenging lessons. Bright, motivated students enrich each other's learning on a topic of shared interest. Course topics should be of high interest to students and build upon their academic strengths. Spark instructors provide a final, narrative evaluation of each student's progress and performance in the course, such as academic strengths, work habits, and areas in need of further development.

Drop Off & Pick Up

Evanston, Lake Forest, Naperville, and Palatine Spark courses meet from 9:15 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. Families drop off students at their classrooms from 9:00 to 9:15 a.m. and students are picked up at 3:45 p.m. from their classrooms.

Chicago Spark courses meet from 9:15 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. Families have the option of dropping off and picking up students in a CTD staff-supervised car line. Families of enrolled students will receive details before the beginning of the program.

Elmhurst Spark courses meet from 8:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Families drop off students in a staff-supervised car line and may pick up students at either 3:00 p.m. or 5:00 p.m. Students remaining until late pick up will be supervised by staff for after-class activities.

Snack and Lunch/Recess Time

Spark students are encouraged to bring a water bottle and two snacks to class for brief breaks taken in the morning and afternoon. Students are supervised by staff from 12 noon to 1:00 p.m. for lunch and recess time.

Chicago, Evanston, Lake Forest, Naperville, and Palatine Spark students bring a bag lunch that does not require refrigeration or heating. A no peanut/tree nut policy is in effect at these locations. Our staff monitors students' snack and lunch items and will remove items containing peanuts or tree nuts.

Elmhurst Spark students are provided with lunch in the Elmhurst College cafeteria, which is not a peanut/tree nut-free facility.

Safety, Supervision & Accommodation

Student safety is the highest priority of the Spark program. Students are under the direct supervision of staff members at all times. Our staff works to establish expectations for student behavior that are consistent with an inviting learning environment and reflect CTD's commitment to fostering character development, integrity, and respect for diversity. Academically qualified students with disabilities are provided access to accommodations consistent with their needs and with the essential requirements of the program.

The Summer Program Family Handbooks, provided when students are accepted to a course, include detailed information about expectations for student behavior, including the CTD Honor Code and our commitment to student health, supervision, and safety.

Information for Accepted Students

Families are notified of admission decisions by email. For accepted students, this email includes links to the appropriate Family Handbook and other relevant information.

International Students

Spark courses are taught in English. Students must be confident and comfortable speaking English in order to participate in Spark courses.

Any accepted Spark student who is not a U.S. citizen, U.S. permanent resident, or in another visa category that allows for study, requires sponsorship for a student visa. Failure to comply may negatively impact a student's ability to secure another non-immigrant visa in the future. Please see the International Students Page for more information.

Copyright 2014 Northwestern University Center for Talent Development