“Learning is no longer this separate thing I do. It’s what happens while I’m doing other things, things I love to do.” — Fisher, age 16
Linking to his love of strategy games and online community, Fisher developed his writing skills, not by submitting English compositions to a teacher, but by writing a blog and by publishing guides about the games he loves to play.
“If it wasn’t for learning outside of school, I might be crazy by now.” — Brian, age 19
Brian loves to read, game, and work with his body and his hands. Although school was a poor fit, he is currently working as an apprentice in an auto service shop. He plans to test soon for his first certification in brake repair.
“We have been really happy with our family’s experience at Open Doors. Our son has thrived in the inclusive and accepting atmosphere at the Center. Open Doors’ teen-centered approach is very effective; teens and adults treat each other with mutual affection and respect. It has been exciting to see our son taking control of his education, developing talents and exploring new interests.” -Hilary and Mike Arthur
“High school was feeling really out of reach for me after freshman year. It felt impossible. It felt like subjects were being pushed. We would start something I was interested in and then we would change the topic in a couple days and begin talking about things I wasn’t really interested in. I really wanted to keep studying the subject I was interested in more deeply. ”
“Now I feel more freedom creatively and I like knowing that where I take my education is my responsibility.” — Tara
“I am in awe of the tremendous growth I have seen in Tristan after his first year at Open Doors. He started the year very reserved and hesitant to get involved, which is true to his public persona. He spent the first semester asking to be picked up immediately after his Biology class and wanted absolutely nothing to do with any activity in which he might feel the need to “share” anything – verbally or otherwise.
“The staff and members of Open Doors respected these things completely. They offered him ways to participate and contribute individually – painting a much needed sign, helping to move things, inviting him to meetings about fracking, etc – which gave him the space he needed to “warm up” while still feeling that he was vital to the center.
“By the end of the year, my reserved kiddo was cracking jokes and showing off his juggling and hula-hooping skills at the end of year celebration in front of all of the members and their families.” — Danielle Bodziak
Why is Everyone So Happy?
I first visited North Star for three days one April. As a disillusioned public school teacher drop-out, I had spent the previous 8 years exploring many different educational alternatives based on various philosophies: Reggio Emilia, Waldorf, Montessori, Multiple Intelligences, Expeditionary Learning; as well as the more radical Democratic Free Schools, Sudbury, and Summerhill. Each had some very valuable and innovative components.
But nowhere did I encounter such happy and contented teens and adults as I witnessed at North Star: Self-directed Learning for Teens. Whatever they were doing, I wanted to find my way to it.
I contacted Ken Danford, executive director at North Star to ask if he would be open to having me as an intern from August 27 – September 25.
I learned that the primary focus of North Star is to support and encourage teens who are not satisfied with their current schooling experience; opening the door for them to find their own way to a vital life of learning and living, where they can thrive, right now.
North Star accomplishes this primary purpose in these ways:
- Informing Teens and Families. The focus is to inform teens and families that there is a viable option other than school. The simple message is: if school is not working for you, you can opt out. They can still learn and go to college if that’s what they end up wanting to do. They can learn and live a vital life right now, instead of learning for some future goal which others have designed.
- Individualized Learning Plan. In conjunction with their families, teens discover, explore and develop their own interests and from this, evolve their own individualized learning plans. This process is continuously reviewed and revised, as self-knowledge is gained.
- Totally optional learning experiences. Completely non-coercive learning experiences are offered, which explore areas of interest to teens, collectively and individually.
- Provide a supportive community. A community where teens feel safe, supported, and truly cared for is to be found here. Teens enjoy the company and camaraderie of others on similar paths.
This is why teens were so happy at North Star, and this is why they’re happy at Open Doors.
— Open Doors Director, Rebecca I. Kirk