For this month’s blog, we invited mother/daughter duo Tamara McIntyre and Zea Jones to each reflect on the reason’s behind the family’s decision to send Zea to Compass and the resulting changes in Zea’s approach to learning.

 Zea is a bedrock member of our community and her enthusiasm for life and learning is positively contagious. Imagining Zea as a “quiet and sullen teen” before coming to Compass is almost beyond my powers of comprehension (!) and underscores our deep belief that how teens behave in one environment is not predictive of how they will behave in another. She facilitates our weekly community meetings, which usually results in the rest of us helping to keep things on track because she’s well.. pretty chatty. 😉 

Happy reading. This is one you won’t want to miss.


In Progress

By Zea Jones

School had always been a steadily descending hill, slowly dropping further and further into nothingness. Kindergarten through third grade, I was unbelievably happy with all that school provided.  Fourth through six, I was bored out of my mind, but I was also the best at whatever I did, easily at the top of my class. When seventh grade rolled around, though, I slipped. My grades, my attitude, my personal life, everything just slipped. I don’t know what happened, but everything just fell away, and I was left with no idea where to go.

I pushed on, obviously, but I let my grades fall away, and I lost one of the best friendships I’ve ever had. I met and talked to a lot of toxic people. The worst thing was, in all this, was that I really didn’t care. I just didn’t care. And when eighth grade rolled around, I continued to drift through life, not caring about anything. The only thing that was different this time around, was that I managed to learn how to get around it. Get around everything. I don’t know how I learned it, or where, or from who, but I learned to lie and manipulate my way around homework, assignments, reading, everything. I hit rock bottom, and I didn’t even know it.

In a fleeting attempt to do anything, I applied to Canterbury for their Lit, but my heart wasn’t in it. I did it because my friends were doing it, because I thought I was doing what I should do. I flipped-flopped through my interview, not to mention my grades were horrible, and I didn’t get in. I was torn up for most of the summer and was completely put down by the prospect of having to go to Nepean High School, and so when my mom sat me down in front of our computer and showed me some black and orange website, I went along with it. I still couldn’t really bring myself to care, but I went along with it. And when I stepped into that room, and people started talking and laughing, something in me just clicked. When September rolled around and I started attending Compass, I started get back on track. Slowly but surely, I was getting back on track. I’m not there yet, but it’s happening, and it wouldn’t be happening if it weren’t for Compass and the amazing people there.

It’s something incredible, you know, waking up every morning and knowing I don’t need to be stressed, or anxious, or worried about the day ahead. Knowing that I can take my time and sort out my feelings and talk to people without being judged or graded or ignored. It’s certainly not something I would have felt in school. At Compass, I’m learning more than I did in seven years in the school system, and I’m learning it from everyone around me, not just underpaid teachers. Self-directed learning is letting me be myself and actually be semi-prepared for the world around me, and it gives me time to pursue my interests and meet new people and live a life worth living. And that’s incredible.

For the people at Compass, I can’t thank you enough for all the support and encouragement you’ve given me and other teens over the years. I honestly don’t think I could have made it without you. And to anyone considering Compass as an alternative for school, anyone out there sitting at your computer feeling lost and empty and hopeless, give us a shot. It might change your life.

“Everyone Wants To Be There”

By Tamara McIntyre

When Abby approached me and suggested I write an article about why my husband and I chose to send our teen to Compass I thought, “No problem. I can knock this out with my eyes closed.” Yet here I am, more than a week past her deadline, staring into a mostly blank screen. Suddenly, the weight of production has ground me to a complete halt, making me wonder why I even got out of bed.

You see, I wanted to sing the praises of Compass without dwelling on why we felt traditional high school was not the best option for our teen or our family. I did not want to hold traditional schooling up and brandish a flaming torch in its direction, shouting about the evils of mass education and how it needs to be torn down. Because the system does work. And as long as you buy into the current educational system as a way to turn out good social spenders, earners, and corporate or government workers, you are golden.

However, not everyone fits into this mould. Nor should they. It’s our differences that make this beautiful world go round and enable us to learn from one another. It’s our individualistic approaches that drive innovation and creativity and allow us to make discoveries – large and small – that better our existence in ways that are not measured in dollars, yet the current education system does not allow for this on any large or meaningful scale.

When our teen started middle school, it was with excitement and a longing to learn more. She had enjoyed primary school and had made some close friends, all of whom would attend the same middle school. Her first progress reports were good; she was, on average, an “A” student. And those “A’s” stayed with her in the majority of her subjects until the end of middle school.

But the cracks in the system were starting to show, and it looked like she was a prime candidate for falling through them. While her subject grades stayed more or less high, her “behavioural” marks always seemed to hover on the average to low side. Homework was consistently avoided and sometimes not turned in at all. In TWO YEARS, I heard from a teacher only once. Our pre-teen admitted to skipping classes that made her feel bad about herself (Gym, Math), and her enjoyment of subjects such as English and writing started to wane – but only in school.  She stopped trying for school teams and joining clubs. She felt under valued and judged because she wasn’t sporty, and overlooked academically because what she found of interest didn’t mesh with what the public education system offered.

When her final grade 8 report came home and she had letter grades – once again – of mostly “A’s”, yet her behavioural report was ALL “needs improvement”, she announced she didn’t want to go to high school and would rather be homeschooled. As a family, we researched different education ideologies and settled on something that resembled world schooling, which would incorporate our desire to travel as a family. But we still had to do something with her while we worked our way towards our world schooling plan.

We discovered Compass through two personal recommendations, and went to an open house. In all honesty, we were not completely won over as we could not image our daughter self-directing anything.  She answered most questions with “I don’t know” or a shrug, and would not do any school work without being hounded for days by an adult. She was thirteen and becoming the stereotypical sullen and quiet teen; a stark contrast to how she was in primary school. After a bit of discussion we decided to take the chance and if it all went to hell in a hand basket, we could just send her to high school after all.

We noticed the changes in just a month. We no longer had to fight to get her out of bed; she was up, dressed, fed, and off to the bus. There was never any homework assigned; yet she came home and headed for the computer to start writing. She went into Compass even when she had no classes scheduled just to “hang out and work”. She raved how she had a say in what classes were offered, and if she didn’t want to take one of them, she didn’t have to. She started making informed decisions about these classes.  In week one, there was no way she was taking the Applied Math class being offered. She hated math, she felt she was bad at math and just couldn’t do it.  We highly suggested she give it a try, because hey, you never know. She reluctantly agreed and went to math class. She came home glowing. She loved this class! The teacher was amazing! She felt she learned more in that one session than she did in all of grade 8.

After a couple of months I sat her down and asked, “Why do you think you enjoy learning at Compass instead of high school with your friends?”  Her response? “Because not only do we get to choose what we learn, but everyone, including the teachers, wants to be there.”

Do we worry about her lack of the OCDSB “piece of paper”? Not at all. Should she want to pursue university or college there are a variety of ways to apply to their programs. It’s more important to us she learn with joy and pursue the avenues that will make her a productive and compassionate person that benefits a more world-view culture.