The Starfish Impact School is an innovative, intensive girls school program in an indigenous area of Sololá. For the past two years, Starfish has been preparing for the first class of 7th graders. The first group of students started school in the second week of January.
Foundation Beyond Belief provided the funding for teacher training and curriculum development with a Compassionate Impact Grant in 2015. The intensive training of educators was required to raise the basic competencies of the teachers so that they could teach at a higher level than they themselves received in their education. The students also needed an extra boost. The new school day would be twice as long as in their previous schools, so Starfish needed to create a preparation and support system for students and families – Escuela Estrellita. Mentor and educator Jerónima remarks, “When they first started, they were so timid and soft-spoken. Now they raise their hands, they speak up in class, and they are becoming more confident…I’m very excited to watch them grow.”
In recent correspondence with Starfish, Director of Collaboration, Travis Ning, shared some successes and complexities facing the new school and its students.
“Successes: It's open and it's working! While our first quarter is not yet complete, we can already see significant gains in the six competencies that guide the school's design and culture (vocal empowerment, resilience, intercultural communication, growth mindset, excellence and critical thinking).
Math- We received a training visit from Teachers to Teachers International, an organization that has been helping us with the training of our math educator (Celestina). According to Teachers to Teachers, Celestina is already perhaps the best 7th-grade math teacher in …Sololá.”
Health- We conducted a health survey of all of the students. While we were not surprised by the data, knowing the information in concrete numbers helps us prioritize. Around half are affected by intestinal parasites. The majority present major oral hygiene issues- many do not own toothbrushes. …Our challenge as an organization is to determine how to address this in an appropriate yet scalable way (so that a strategy we use for 1 girl/family can be applied to 300 girls/families)…
Baseline academic starting point- We recently assessed the Lexile scores for incoming students. While these young women were carefully chosen based on economic need, personal and family motivation, and academic aptitude, only 2 of the 48 girls are reading at grade level.”
The training, preparation and whole community approach existing at this brand new school will provide successes and challenges along the way, but Starfish is dedicated to providing an extraordinary education experience, one that is new to indigenous communities in Guatemala.
Starfish received a $41,000 Compassionate Impact Grant in 2015. They received $8870 in successive grant funding from FBB in 2016, and they will receive a third grant in April, continuing the multi-year support of Starfish.