Annually, 95 percent of Girl Pioneers and families will continue their enrollment in the school due to an inclusive, holistic intervention that embraces the crucial role of parents/families in creating and sustaining new trajectories for Girl Pioneers.
Girl Pioneers in the Starfish Impact School are at constant risk of dropping out for a variety of reasons:
Social pressure—In a context where half of girls under age 18 are married and mothering, investing in a girl’s schooling defies convention. Young women who marry leave the home to live with the husband. Investing in their education is therefore perceived as a waste.
Lack of education among parents—On average, the mothers of Girl Pioneers possess only two years of formal schooling and have little awareness of what secondary school entails. Their fathers typically have no more than three years.
Poverty—All families selected for the Starfish Impact School are in poverty or extreme poverty, residing in the informal economy. Almost all incoming students would have otherwise abandoned their schooling at the 6th grade were it not for an SIS scholarship.
Exacerbating this challenge is the fact that due to the rigor of the education, it will be nearly impossible to replace any students who abandon their studies.
Fortunately, Starfish has a deep familiarity with these obstacles. Our innovative “ecosystemic” approach considers the girl, her family, and her social sphere. The Starfish Impact School integrates Starfish’s mentorship program into its curriculum. The central piece of this program is young female mentors from the same community who speak the same Mayan dialect and possess the essential empathy and emotional intelligence to address the social-emotional needs of each Girl Pioneer and her family. Full-time mentors serve 20-25 Girl Pioneers and families over six years in three crucial areas:
Achieve success with families (not in spite of them): Mentors are highly trained to employ a variety of trauma-informed techniques to create and sustain each family’s engagement through home visits and parent meetings. Mentors place particular focus on nurturing the essential role of the father and brothers of each Girl Pioneer.
Foster social capital and knowledge to sustain trajectories: Rather than normal “homeroom,” the Starfish Impact School has safe mentorship spaces in which Girl Pioneers access established curricula in nonacademic areas such as hygiene, reproductive health, identification of individual strengths, community development, rights awareness, etc.
Create and empower individual agency: Mentors work individually with Girl Pioneers to help each empower her self-determination and identify and develop her unique strengths.
To secure sustained parental buy-in, Starfish is also working with other local NGOs to create partnerships that provide preferential access to their services as long as families have a daughter enrolled in the Starfish Impact School. Possible services include family health, home improvement/sanitation, access to exclusive marketplaces for goods, and preferential rates for microcredit loans.