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FirstStar 246First Star Academy

In summer 2017, an inaugural First Star Academy was run in the UK at St Mary's University.

What is First Star?

First Star was originally set up in the USA to address the education outcomes of young people in foster care, where for only 3% of care leavers attend university The figure for the UK is 6%. Care leavers make up just 0.1 per cent of all undergraduates.

For many care leavers the future can be very bleak. In the UK, they make up one per cent of all children but about half of the prison population. They are hugely over represented among the homeless and more than 1 in 3 end up NEET (not in education, employment or training). If they can be helped into higher education that’s a great achievement.

Inspired by research, First Star’s approach is to place young people who are in care into academies on university campuses to support, inspire and belong.  The results from America are startling – over 90% of foster youth who attend First Star academies in the USA go on to study at university, compared to the national average of 3%. 

The First Star Academy at St Mary’s University is the first in the UK and the main focus of First Star St Mary’s is a four-week residential academy taking place on the St Mary’s University main campus.  In addition to the summer academy, there are monthly Saturday academies throughout the rest of the year.

Academy students live on campus in the halls of residence for the duration of the summer academy and are immersed in university life.  The Students’ first summer academy took  place between years 9 and 10, and they will remain with the programme for 4 years, throughout GCSE and A-level education.

The programme is designed to support young people in foster care to access - and flourish in - higher education.  As such St Mary’s support young people academically throughout GCSE’s and A-levels in order that they can get the grades required to access higher education and go on to obtain a good degree.  Academically, the emphasis of the summer academies is to prepare students for the upcoming school year by developing fundamental skill sets required in that year.

In addition to the academic programming, St Mary’s teach important life skills such as cooking and nutrition, self-soothing, anger management and emotional regulation, financial literacy, education and other rights and self-advocacy.

The third element of the programme is about exposure to, and a sense of belonging in, higher education.  Over the 4 years students of the academy join in with various elements of university life such as student societies, sports and recreation.  They also have taster sessions from a wide variety of subject areas both at St Mary’s and in partnership with other universities, in order to gain experience of the huge variety of degree subjects available and make informed subject and career choices, when the time comes.

If you are associated with a University or higher education, why not consider establishing such a programme on your campus?

More details of the UK programme here.

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Geoff Knott, 19/12/2018

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