A Self-Directed Teen Speaks

A member of the Compass Centre for Self-Directed Learning in Ontario, Willow shares her story.  “I looked from the outside like I was thriving in school,” she says.  In actuality, “I had succumbed to the anxiety of school work, social pressures, and the constant feeling that I was only worth the grades I received.”

Even though she was unhappy, it was difficult for Willow to leave the established norm of traditional school.  We know it can be difficult for our teens and families, too.  Willow’s words of advice to those teens who are thinking about leaving school:

“You may feel lost and alone, but this life you are considering will be so much more meaningful to you, because it will be your own life, and in the end, that’s all that counts.”

What do you say to a teen who tells you “I really don’t like going to school”?

Ken Danford co-founded North Star: Self-directed Learning for Teens 18 years ago in Amherst, MA. With Ken as my mentor, I participated in an incredible internship at North Star and came back to Grand Rapids to begin Open Doors, based on this profound, yet simple, model.  Seeing the teens there still fills me with joy and hope.

Ken’s Ted Talk at Amherst College TEDx November 10, 2013kenportrait1

In the Muck

At our last staff meeting of the Core Staff we were discussing our work with the teen members and someone remarked that the reason any particular teen’s progress might be challenging to quantify is that we’re “here in the muck of learning.”  This time known as adolescence is one huge and life-changing learning experience after another.  Hormones, intense physical changes, and dramatic brain development set the stage for radical transformation of our whole selves.  Young adulthood is not a time when we necessarily change anything about who we essentially are, but a time when we begin to fully become who we are.  We make enormous strides in areas like independence, self-awareness, and self-determination.  We establish connections with peers and adults that can stay with us for the rest of our lives, often even determining the course our lives will take.  Our emotions are raw, real, and right in our faces. Overall, a very mucky time indeed, especially if we think of muck as the fertilizer and fuel that makes everything and anything possible.

Catherine Gobron ….  program director of North Star: Self-directed Learning for Teens


If you’ve explored our site, you know that we are inspired by the model of North Star: Self-directed Learning for Teens in Hadley, MA.  Well, we are not the only ones.  Several alternatives to education have also been so inspired including Princeton Learning Cooperative in Princeton, NJ (in year 2) and Compass: Center for Self-directed Learning in Ottawa, ONT, scheduled to open in January 2013.  North Star is not in the business of franchising, but, rather is happy to help others who see how well this approach works for teens.

In my opinion Compass has done a remarkable job of capturing the essence of this approach in this video.  Would love to hear what you think!

Compass Teens

North Star

I feel very fortunate for having discovered and establishing a relationship with North Star: Self-directed Learning for TeensFor the last decade I have been exploring and visiting a wide variety of “alternative” learning venues.  When I first visited North Star in April of this year, I knew I had arrived at a Very amazing place.  It has become a model for my work here at Open Doors.

I’ve also written about my experience there during a month-long internship there in September.  I’d love to have you read and/or give me feedback on this: Why is Everyone Here so Happy?