In January 2017, we took a huge leap of faith and opened the Starfish Impact School. Over the past year, our first cohort of 47 students modeled perseverance, resilience, and the ability to adapt to a new style of teaching and learning. With each new school day, each Girl Pioneer demonstrated her dedication to the transformative power of her future.
Next week, we will excitedly welcome the next cohort of 47 seventh grade students into the Starfish Impact School. In anticipation of the new academic year, we want to share reflections from our staff on the successes, challenges, and lessons learned during our first year of operation.
What were some of the challenges you faced this year?
“One of the biggest personal challenges was to be resilient in the face of the adversities our Girl Pioneers face and be able to guide them. On the team, we experimented with many changes. It’s the first year and there have been changes which have been a little difficult to adapt to. With the students, one of the biggest challenges was for them to adapt to the new lifestyle of having a ‘double shift,’ where they have a full day of classes vs. a half day of classes, which is how the traditional Guatemalan public school system is structured. Sometimes they look exhausted and we want them to understand the importance of practicing resilience in the face of these kinds of challenges.” – Nina, Starfish Impact School Mentor
“Transforming the traditional public education system in Guatemala to an education in which students are the main protagonists-not just listeners- who can master basic knowledge and find solutions to life’s daily questions.” – Chonita, Social Studies Educator
“For me, it was the double role of being both a science educator and school director. I have learned a lot this year to prepare me better for the next year. For the girls, it was receiving classes all day. For the team, it was enlivening classes, planning with intentionality, and growing as educators.” – Vilma, Director of the Starfish Impact School and Science Educator
What were some of the successes this year, for you, the team, and for the Starfish students?
“My personal success was changing the ideologies and methodology I use in the development of a class and growing professionally in terms of Spanish language content and teaching techniques. On the Starfish team, I am continually impressed by the communication that is maintained and the network of support, trust, and harmony that everyone possesses. For the students, they faced many changes I consider successes. The majority of them have developed the habit of reading. They use critical thinking to come up with concrete and significant ideas. They have advanced in writing, expansion of knowledge in every area, and creativity.” – Ixkik, Spanish Language Educator
“It has been amazing to be part of a team that can identify problems and move to solve them so quickly and efficiently, and often very effectively. This first year of school was incredibly challenging because there was so much we didn’t necessarily anticipate but still had to respond to, and we did. [For example], girls come in without a lot of vocabulary, so the team determines how to support the teachers in teaching vocabulary, and suddenly it’s turned into professional development sessions and it’s included in the teachers’ guide and evaluated monthly–all of this in a matter of weeks.” – Alix, Director of Curriculum and Assessment
“Personally, I can already read and write Kaqchikel 75% correctly, and I traveled to Denver, Colorado to live and connect with my US-based colleagues at Starfish. On the team, we work as a team, modeling the competency of vocal empowerment. For the girls, they are pioneers and they model the competencies of critical thinking and resilience when they read and participate in their classes.” – Jerónima, Kaqchikel Language Educator
“A committed team in their professional development and accompaniment to Girl Pioneers. The educators are very open to learning and receiving feedback. The students have adapted to the culture of high academic expectations.” – Oscar, Director of Innovation
What is one of your favorite memories?
“When Girl Pioneers have used new vocabulary in the side conversations that they have.” – Norma, In-Country Director
“We did an educational tour with the girls through Santiago Atitlán. That day, I saw many smiling faces among girls that had never visited the Lake before or traveled in a boat.” – Nina, Starfish Impact School Mentor
“The happiness of the girls when they learn decimals while playing.” – Celestina, Math Educator
“Going on the field trip with the Girl Pioneers to Body World [a human anatomy exhibit in Guatemala City].” – Elizabeth, English Language Educator
What surprised you?
“There is a lot of support in places you wouldn’t necessarily expect it, and I think a prime example of that is the fathers of the girls at the school, who in many cases are going against some cultural norms and stereotypes by supporting their daughters’ education and teaching their sons to value that as well.” – Alix, Director of Curriculum and Assessment
“How fast the girls learn.” – Norma, In-Country Director
“The way Girl Pioneers have a thirst and hunger to learn new and innovative things.” – Virgilio, Movement Educator
“That the girls have expanded their vocabulary and express themselves with ease and assurance.” – Oscar, Director of Innovation
What lessons did you learn this year?
“I learned that what is taught with breadth and depth lasts longer than things that are taught with brushstrokes.” – Virgilio, Movement Educator
“There were a lot–we are constantly learning. However, I learned that to improve educational quality we should always put the student first, emphasizing enduring abilities and knowledge that we want them to develop.” – Ixkik, Spanish Language Educator
What excites you about the second year?
“There will be two generations of Girl Pioneers. The Starfish Impact School is growing.” – Yolanda, Math Educator
“To see the Girl Pioneers learn more English day by day and be able to speak it with more fluidity and confidence.” – Elizabeth, English Language Educator
“To see the new Girl Pioneers in the Starfish Impact School interact with those in their second year will be very exciting.” – Roselia, Art and Vocal Empowerment Educator
“That we are going to have more Girl Pioneers at the school. We are empowering more young women with small actions that can create big changes.” – Celena, Productivity and Development Educator