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Phoenix first-grader teacher teaches young students to explore through reading

Silver Apple is sponsored by Arizona Bank and Trust.
This picture shows Philip Starostka and his students in a group hug.
Philip Starostka says teaching students this young requires a lot of extra TLC. "I get about 8 million hugs per day!"(Arizona's Family)
Published: Feb. 22, 2022 at 1:11 PM MST|Updated: Feb. 23, 2022 at 8:00 AM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- First grade is one of the most critical years in school when it comes to reading. Knowing this, Philip Starostka at Borman Elementary School makes it his mission to prepare his young students. “Mr. Star,” as his first-graders call him, gears up each day with more than just reading, writing, and arithmetic for his students. He says teaching students this young requires a lot of extra TLC. “It takes a lot of patience,” he explained. “It takes a lot of grace. It takes a lot of heart, and it takes a lot of love. I get about 8 million hugs per day!” With all those tools, Mr. Star works to create an educational foundation his students will build on the rest of their school days.

We recently visited Mr. Star’s classroom to present him with a Silver Apple Award. Jovanny Garcia, who is now in fifth grade, nominated Mr. Star for the honor. He never forgot how Mr. Star helped him become a good reader, and today, he says his reading skills continue to get stronger.

Jovanny shared his nomination letter. “Mr. Starr is such an amazing and cheerful teacher. He is a good mentor, counselor, teacher, and friend. He is devoted to his work and makes all students believe they are capable of doing anything. I went into his class not knowing how to read, and in one whole school year with him, I was able to read grade level. He deserves to be recognized for being a wonderful teacher and person.”

“It’s just a beautiful affirmation that the work that we do not only happens in first grade but ripples throughout the rest of their academic careers,” Mr. Star said after listening to Jovanny.

This images shows Philip Starostka hugging Jovanny Garcia, the student who nominated him for...
Philip Starostka hugs Jovanny Garcia, the student who nominated him for the Silver Apple. Jovanny is now in fifth grade.(Arizona's Family)

As part of the Silver Apple Award, our partners at Arizona Bank & Trust presented Mr. Star with a $1,000 check. “At Arizona Bank & Trust, we support our teachers because we see what they do for us,” explained Ken Gabel, a senior vice president at Arizona Bank & Trust said. “So, on behalf of Arizona Bank and Trust, I’d like to give you a check for $1,000. Congratulations!”

“First grade is all about reading,” Mr. Star said, explaining why he chose to teach some of the youngest students. “It’s all about learning to read. It’s all about the exploration, and really, first grade is one of the biggest light-bulb moments.” Mr. Star says that light bulb won’t turn on unless his students feel his classroom is a safe environment where they can learn. So in first grade, that means lots of smiles, applause, and hugs are all part of the job. Mr. Star has been teaching for seven years, all at the first-grade level. He says he loves working with the younger kids.

This pictures shows Gina Maravilla giving Philip Starostka a Silver Apple Award,
Gina Maravilla and Arizona Bank & Trust recently presented Phoenix first-grade teacher Philip Starostka with a Silver Apple Award.(Arizona's Family)