During our information night a few weeks ago, I was listening to the North Star teens speak so movingly about their experiences of leaving traditional school and coming to North Star, and I was reminded of why I was drawn to this model in the first place. I first met Ken Danford, North Star’s  co-founder and current director, and heard several North Star teens a few years ago at an educational conference called the Alternative Education Resource Organization (AERO).

At the time I was staying home with my two young kids and had been outside the field of education for several years. Meeting my current life partner and moving to Montreal radically altered the course I was expecting my career to take. After several years of doing various things including busking in the metro for money (the early years), teaching in various contexts, editing and producing books, working at an international non-profit, completing a Master’s degree in education at McGill and a teaching certificate at the University of Ottawa, I was ready to return to my original dream of helping young people explore, learn, and find their place in the world.

The question was in what form.

And then I went to the North Star workshop. The majority of teenagers at North Star have chosen to leave traditional high schools – as opposed to having been long-time homeschooled teens. These students will tell you about the world that has opened up to them since attending North Star. They will tell you about how they feel engaged and passionate about what they are choosing to do and how they enjoy the relationships they have with adult staff at North Star and elsewhere. They will speak passionately about how different the social scene is at North Star and how friendly and respectful people are. They will tell you about the other things they have going on in their lives: the work they do at a local farm or the day they take at home to read. I invite you to go to North Star’s website, and read some of the “testimonials” that members have written.

I asked Ken Danford what the secret is to the warm, positive, vibrant space that is North Star – obviously with the motivation to repeat that at Compass in mind. He pointed out that when people are free to come and go and pursue their own interests, they are much nicer. After all, as a general rule people aren’t baiting or jostling each other at the gym down the street; we don’t have bullying programs for the local library goers.

Here’s what I love about this model:

-Teens can start living their lives now. Their youth isn’t spent en route to something else “more important” later down the road. We give back teens back something extremely valuable: their time.

-Teens learn to take responsibility for their own learning. John Holt said “The most important question any thinking creature can ask itself is, ‘What is worth thinking about?’” Learning is a basic human drive; when it becomes frustrated or directed from outside, the result is usually to make people less motivated and dispassionate.

The goal of Compass is about helping young people to be alive, to live well now and into the future, and to avoid becoming thwarted in their passions and interests. I believe that kids are born specialists; we make them into generalists who, in many cases, forget who they are and what they love through years of schooling. Exploring what you love is called play. We will provide a space for possibilities, guidance along the path, and a community of both peers and mentors.