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Fish Stark: Building Confidence in Kids

Fish Stark: Building Confidence in Kids

Ladderworks is a publishing platform of diverse picture books and online curriculum with the mission to empower over a million kids to become social entrepreneurs. Our current series features interviews by our interplanetary journalist Spiffy with inspiring Social Entrepreneurs, Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Builders, and Changemakers who are advancing the UN SDGs.

Spiffy here with the scoop on the entrepreneurial leaders of Planet Earth. As the only interplanetary journalist stationed on this blue planet, I’m thrilled to present this galactic exclusive with Fish Stark, the head of program and curriculum of Legends. Let’s learn what’s happening at Legends and how Fish is making a positive impact in the world.

Spiffy: Thanks for joining me, Fish! Tell me, what challenge are you addressing through Legends?

Fish: Thanks for having me, Spiffy! Across the country, kids are struggling with their confidence. Every kid deserves to feel that they matter, that they can achieve their goals, and that they'll be OK if they make mistakes. But many of them don't feel that way. As many as 65% of teens struggle with confidence, and that in turn is leading to increased anxiety and depression. At Legends, we're creating programs that help kids build confidence one day at a time. Confidence isn't a trait you have, it's a skill you can practice and improve. And it leads to increased happiness, wellness, and success for those who have it. Every kid, no matter who they are, deserves to love showing up as themselves. We're giving them the tools to make that a reality.

Spiffy: What motivates you to do it?

Fish: I got picked on a lot as a kid. There were plenty of things that put a target on my back. I had no athletic ability, but I did have tortoise-shell glasses, a squeaky voice, and a pigeon-toed walk. I was a perpetual teachers’ pet who read “girls’ books.” My mom still picked out my clothes, and it showed. And then there was my name, Fortney Hillman Stark III. You might as well have put a billboard up next to the school with my picture and the caption “Beat up this kid.” I changed my name to "Fish" to try to get the bullying to stop. (It didn't work, but I kept the name. It's cooler.) And I decided I wanted to spend my life building things that helped kids become stronger and kinder.

Spiffy: What is the impact of your work?

Fish: Today, our programs are built for kids aged seven to 11. That's because young kids tend to have pretty high confidence when they start school. But confidence declines steadily throughout childhood, all the way until it reaches a low point in the teen years. Because we know confidence is something that you can improve with practice, we think it's important to start early as possible. We believe confidence is for everyone. Our team conducts research to make sure that the way we're teaching confidence is accessible to neurodiverse kids, to kids no matter their race, gender, or income level. Our hope is that every kid who uses Legends' programs and tools comes away knowing themselves, believing in themselves, and treating themselves well.

Spiffy: Thanks for speaking with me today, Fish—it’s been an honor!

Fish Stark is the head of program and curriculum at the Legends Lab Foundation, a non-profit that makes confidence programming accessible for kids. Prior to Legends, he led the program team at Peace First and studied child development at Yale and Harvard. He is a comedian in his spare time. (Nominated by Alex Aide at Born This Way Foundation. First published on the Ladderworks website on July 13, 2023.)

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of Ladderworks LLC.

© 2023 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Shikha Tandon. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. For the Ladderworks digital curriculum to help K-3 kids advance the UN SDGs, visit Spiffy's Launchpad: Creative Entrepreneurship Workshops for K-3 Kids and their caregivers here.