Founded in 2008, the Starfish mentorship program targets girls otherwise unable to continue their studies beyond 6th grade, and empowers each to become a “Girl Pioneer” who trailblazes an unprecedented trajectory through and beyond secondary school.
Over the course of 8 years, Starfish implemented a powerful wraparound program for 240 Girl Pioneers and their families. Annually, Starfish achieves a 95 percent academic success rate. A stipend that partially covers education expenses—including tuition, books, uniforms, etc.—gives Girl Pioneers the financial ability to continue their schooling.
The weekly mentorship session, using the Starfish Empowerment Curriculum, exposes Girl Pioneers to key knowledge areas and equips them with skills they may not otherwise learn at school or at home. This curriculum is divided into two parts to better cater to age-appropriate needs.
The first phase, POWER, targets middle school and focuses on basic skills such as identifying individual strengths, creating spaces of positive communication with and within families, managing a savings account, and building positive social capital.
The BRIDGE Program continues with the same peer group and mentor, but the content of their weekly mentorship pivots to include more age-appropriate and vocationally focused content. Reproductive education and the issue of dating are strong areas of focus (over half of indigenous girls are married or mothers by 18). Additionally, mentors begin to provide learning opportunities to inform Girl Pioneers about life after high school. Job panels, university visits, résumé preparation, and building of interview skills become regular activities.
Starfish realized early on that family units are very important in our students’ lives, and proactively integrating the family as a crucial ally in their journey was essential. Through mandatory family meetings with the mentor each month and events at the school for all families every other month, Starfish is able to provide an ongoing network of support for both the students and their families.
In 2013, another challenge emerged when the first Girl Pioneers completed high school. The years of mentorship and family/peer support were evident as many advanced to university-level study, formal employment, and small business development. However, the “cracks” in their education also appeared—most acutely in core academic areas (Spanish grammar, basic math), as well as workplace competencies like proactive communication. As products of a traditional education that emphasized passivity and rote memorization, Girl Pioneers often did not possess the requisite skills for success in the workplace or in college.
With this new understanding, Starfish moved to the next step on our innovation trajectory—the Starfish Impact School.