Phoenix Charter School Aims to Transform K-12 Education

Empower. Think. Create. Do. Sound like a start-up venture? Guess again. Those are the concepts driving StarShine Academy, a public charter school in Phoenix started by corporate-world veteran Trish McCarty, who set out to transform K-12 education.

More than a decade later, StarShine boasts awards, participation in international peace programs and a great challenge ahead: a worldwide competition focused on the ambitious goal of creating a mobile application that helps people teach themselves basic math, reading and writing skills.

“Our mission is to eradicate illiteracy in Phoenix and then spread that to the rest of the world by using technology and brain science,” says the former banking executive. With an entrepreneurial spirit, she started StarShine Academy in 2002 following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Her goal was to change the way children are taught—mind, body and soul.

“I think that children are either taught how to hate or how to love, and 9/11 was an outcome of people who have been taught how to hate,” she says. “I just thought, ‘We’ve got to teach children how to be powerful, how to love and how to be loved.’ ”

The newly-designed StarShine Academy, at 35th Avenue and McDowell Road, aims to fill critical needs in the community. The school serves students who are economically disadvantaged and struggle academically. Fewer than 400 kids attend the school and come from varied ethnic backgrounds.

McCarty says the StarShine model promotes empowerment and entrepreneurship, peace building and resilience, critical thinking and compassion. Technology, as well as arts and culture, are woven throughout the school. The experience is rounded out with activities such as gardening or athletics. Music plays an important role, led by McCarty’s song-writing, guitar-playing, rock-and-rolling husband Steve McCarty.

McCarty has grown her StarShine concept to include campuses in both Phoenix and Santa Fe, N.M. StarShine also provides educational and training materials to schools in other countries, and McCarty says she travels to schools around the world offering educational leadership training.

In the coming years, StarShine will be focusing on a global learning competition from nonprofit XPRIZE, which fosters high-profile competitions that encourage innovation and help solve “grand challenges” facing the world. The competition challenges teams around the world to develop open source and scalable software that enables children in developing countries to teach themselves basic reading, writing and math.

McCarty is thrilled to have StarShine students join the competition.

“What fun [it is] for kids to connect with other kids around the world,” she says.

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