Skip to content Exit mobile menu
"Yes you belong in college, look around you! You are already here!"Peter Samuelson, President and Co-founder, First Star

What is First Star?

First Star was originally set up in the USA by film producer Peter Samuelson to address the education outcomes of young people in foster care, where for only 3% of care leavers attend university (6% in the UK).

Inspired by research by Dr Kathleen Reardon, First Star’s approach is to place young people who are in care into academies on university campuses to support, inspire and belong.  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. 

Why St Mary’s?

There are many reasons St Mary’s was chosen to run the inaugural First Star Academy outside of the USA, not least are our values of inclusiveness, generosity of spirit, respect and excellence.

With such low educational outcomes for young people in foster care, a more inclusive approach is clearly needed, and a generosity of spirit from Staff and Students helps to advance a sense of community, belonging and respect.

The excellent standards of teacher training by our education professionals feed into the academic programming and educational support for students of the academy.

How is the St Mary’s academy structured?

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 us for 4 years, throughout GCSE and A-level education.

weill DSC6801

What is taught in the academy?


The programme is designed to support young people in foster care to access - and flourish in - higher education.  As such we 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.

Life skills

In addition to the academic programming we 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.

Exposure to Higher Education

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.

What are the dates?

In 2017 the first summer residential academy ran from the 24th July to 19th August.  Saturday academies run on the first Saturday of the month.  The first Saturday academy programme is running throughout the year, supporting and encouraging students’ academic and well-being and preparing for the next residential academy.


Who can apply?

We have a few remaining places in the Academy and in  order to apply for a place on the academy you need to be

  • Currently in year 10
  • Have or have previously had Child Looked After status, or an edge of care arrangement
  • Live in or be looked after by a local authority in our catchment area.

How do I apply?

The application process involves meeting with the Academy Director, a small amount of paperwork and submitting an adult recommendation.  This can be from any adult who knows you and thinks the academy would be beneficial for you, for example a foster carer, teacher, social worker, sports coach, youth worker or someone from the Virtual School.

How much will it cost me?

The costs of the First Star Academy at St Mary’s have been covered for the full four years of the programme by St Mary’s University and five other funders: The Peter Cundill Foundation, Sir John Cass’s Foundation, the Assumption Legacy Fund, MariaMarina Foundation and the Atlantic Trading Charitable Trust. We are therefore not asking for a financial contribution to be able to participate in the academy.


All teaching staff, mentors, managers and night staff have enhanced DBS checks, and will attend bespoke safeguarding training at level 1.  Directors and managers receive additional level 2 safeguarding training.  We liaise with experts in online safety and anti-cyber-bullying groups.  Accommodation is in a dedicated block in the St Mary’s student accommodation, composing of separate rooms off common corridors over three floors.  Staff also reside in this accommodation for the duration of the summer academy, including the Academy Director, Assistant Director and Academy Mentors. We also employ night staff whose sole responsibility is patrolling the accommodation at night – not merely on call but rather fully awake and ready to respond / pre-empt any issues.  We have separate male and female floors, with staff appropriately dispersed amongst students.

Next steps

If you are a young person in care, a foster carer, social worker, teacher, Virtual School professional or anyone else interested in applying or supporting the application of a qualifying young person, or want more information in general please contact St Mary’s First Star Director Nick Turk who can be reached at

Open days

Our upcoming open events will be advertised soon but please make contact with Nick to start your progress into the Academy. 

weill DSC6820