Starfish’s impact school offers change in educational model


In previous posts we have mentioned the plans of our compassionate impact grant recipient, Starfish, to open an impact school for middle- and high school-aged Guatemalan girls. The generous contributions of Foundation Beyond Belief members have helped launch the rigorous teacher training courses that will serve as the core of that school and the launch pad for innovation. Now that our quarter of support has come to a close, we look to the future of Starfish’s impact school and what our support will help them achieve.

Starfish has proven through their Girl Pioneer program that a combination of individualized educational attention and cultural support is a potent recipe for achievement. Their students have outpaced their peers in many ways, from simple frequency of attendance, to avoiding teenage pregnancy, and finding jobs after graduation. But in order to better achieve the organizational goals of educational and financial attainment, living a choice-filled life, and empowering others to do the same, Starfish will depart from the industrial system of teaching for a more tailored model.

The impact school, slated to open in 2017, will differ from the traditional Guatemalan schools in several key ways. The first and most important difference will be the new method of learner-centric instruction, the same method in which teachers are currently being trained with the support of FBB’s compassionate impact grant. This departure from the common lecturing, rote learning, and copying of text and instructional materials will allow students to become active participants in their own learning. Teachers will educate by facilitating rather than dictating. They will expose students to topics and ideas through a project-based curriculum where the girls can explore and engage with the material in individualized ways. This new method will leave behind the antiquated system of “majoring” in high school, where students were frequently given little option but to pick an inflexible career path often unsuited to their interests or the needs of the job market. Starfish’s impact school will work with their established private sector and social impact partners to help students find careers that are responsive to both their talents and available opportunities.

Another important advantage of the impact school will be the connections with culture and community it will make possible. The school will be run by Mayan staff, simultaneously demonstrating to the girls indigenous identity and empowerment in non-Mayan spaces. While students will be able to learn in a cultural context, they will also learn to “code-switch” and be comfortable with other contexts at a reflexive level. Exposure to varied contexts will help the students achieve a choice-filled life where they can examine their culture and their religion and move away from dogmatic beliefs freely. Since that can be a tumultuous process, the school will also integrate the mentor program into everyday activities, allowing for guidance and support. In addition, families can be brought directly into the process. Integrating parents into the educational journey of their daughters has long been a fixture of Starfish’s program, and the impact school will work with families as well as students to help them move forward together.

Starfish’s impact school represents a consolidation of services, a concentration of their program into a more efficient and effective experience for the students. Previously, much focus had been placed on three distinct goals: Access, Support, and Knowledge. These were addressed in a piecemeal fashion, cobbling together a public school education with supplemental educational support, mentorship, and family home visits. The impact school condenses those goals and gives Starfish the ability to address all of them in one place, with a streamlined schedule, dedicated staff, and an innovative curriculum. Foundation Beyond Belief is proud to have helped Starfish lay the foundation for this leap forward and support their ongoing efforts to change the face of education in Guatemala.