As the first women in their families and communities to study past the second grade, the young women in our program are truly trailblazers. With a deep and ever-evolving understanding of the need, Starfish has been enhancing and adapting programs to best meet our goals since 2007.
Starfish began with an intentional wraparound mentorship program, which has empowered girls to graduate from high school. Weekly mentorship meetings provide Girl Pioneers with life skills and study skills they may not have access to otherwise. In middle school, the young women participate in the Poder (Power) program, which covers subjects such as health and personal hygiene, resilience, and vocal empowerment. In high school, the Girl Pioneers transition into the Puente (Bridge) program, which covers more advanced age-appropriate subjects such as sexual rights, financial literacy, and reproductive health. Through weekly tutoring, our traditional mentorship program provides ongoing academic support to keep each young woman on track to finish high school and achieve her goals. In addition to these weekly mentorship sessions, monthly home visits and bimonthly parent/community meetings ensure that each family is engaged in their daughter’s endeavors and able to build a community of support.
Over the past 10 years, the mentorship program has proven to be highly effective in allowing young women to graduate from high school (95 percent of Starfish students will successfully graduate). However, due to the substandard education offered in public schools throughout rural Guatemala, this has not always proven an effective pathway to goal achievement. A four-hour school day, teachers unfamiliar with their subject matter, and a system with low expectations were taking their toll on the continuing successes post-graduation. To address these issues, create an internationally replicable model of schooling, and influence the education system in Guatemala on a larger scale, the Starfish Impact School (SIS) opened in January 2017.
Potential participants learn about the program through community meetings and home visits. An application process ensures a good fit for the program. In 2016, over 125 girls applied for the program, and the program reached capacity at 50 students. Once a Girl Pioneer is accepted into the Starfish Impact School, she participates in Escuela Estrellita (Little Star School), a five-month preparatory program. Instead of a 4-hour school day, the participants will now receive 8 hours of instruction. This includes both academics and a mentoring session that encompasses life skills and other core competencies. The SIS educators have received intensive professional development in content development and progressive teaching techniques. In a weekly mentorship session, the Girl Pioneers are introduced to subjects outside academics such as life skills, study skills, financial literacy, and much more. The sessions mirror the Power and Bridge programs offered in the mentorship program.
Monthly home visits—with mandatory attendance by the whole family—encourage buy-in and education of the entire family, which supports the Girl Pioneer. Every other month, sessions for the families of all participants at the school are held, creating community and allowing parents to network and discuss the challenges and successes they are experiencing.
Once the Girl Pioneers graduate from high school, they continue to face barriers. In the interest of continuing intensive support, the New Horizons program offers several supported trajectories for graduates who wish to continue on to university, find employment, or launch their own businesses. Access to trainings and coaching from our full-time small business consultant guides graduates through every step of the entrepreneurship process and connects them with opportunities for seed funding. Employment counselors help link graduates with job opportunities in their chosen field.
Starfish provides full-ride university scholarships to many of the top-10 percent Starfish graduates. Through the Quetzal Fund and partnerships with a range of organizations—She’s the First, Progressa, and FEPMaya—Starfish provides external university scholarships to all students who wish to pursue post-secondary educational opportunities. We employ a full-time staff member to work one on one with Girl Pioneers to navigate the complexity of scholarship applications and university enrollment.