“I got sick of it all. Why was I making myself so unhappy from being in school when there’s so much out there to see and experience? Then I found out that you didn’t even need to finish school to have a fulfilled life. You can work or go to university without a high school degree. I didn’t see the point in sticking around. It made me feel bad on so many levels: the way everyone interacted with each other, the insecurity, wasting all in this time in class for no reason. It was too much to handle. I went through a bout of depression from going to school. It felt like it was never going to end and it all felt pointless. I had an existential crisis – but much of it was directly related to school.”

At Compass we do important, life-changing work. After years of being in a system that does not work for them, some kids end up feeling like they have no gifts to offer the world. Others come away disenchanted with learning. We believe our society has a responsibility to create more learning alternatives. And guess what? That’s us. As we near our 4 year anniversary, we’d like to take stock of our mission and acknowledge the people who have helped us along the way.

First off, let’s just all get on board with the fact that what we’re accomplishing is monumental. We are challenging the deeply-held views that 1) You don’t need school to learn and 2) You can succeed in life without a high school diploma. We’re operating in a city that, as our program manager put it, is “all about making systems work” and we’re asking families to pay out of pocket for something that should be free. We could not go it alone. Here is a non-exhaustive list of some of the many people and organizations who have helped us along the way:

  1. The Bronson Centre: This video gets at the heart of what makes Bronson Centre the vibrant, diverse, and caring place that it is. We have relationships with many of the other organizations in the building. They have been guest lecturers in our classes and patient neighbours to our sometimes exuberant teens (shout out to Ottawa Pastoral Counselling Centre and Kairos). The building administration has been accommodating and kind – allowing us a rooftop garden, space to create a mural, and providing help in ways too numerous to count. The Bronson Centre has a core mission of care and we experience that on a daily basis. Thank you.
  2. Our Donors: We have received thousands of dollars in donations since our inception – from United Way donations to a donation from Just Change to generous personal donations. Thank you. Your donations allow us to work with any family regardless of financial circumstances.
  3. Our Networks – both a locally and internationally. We are grateful for Liberated Learners – the network comprised of other centres like ours. We offer each other everything from ideas to empathy. I cannot imagine doing this work without their encouragement and expertise. We are also connected to a web of networks in our city: Volunteer Ottawa, Makerspace North, The Door Youth Centre,Pathways to Education, homeschooling groups, etc. etc. And the list is only growing. In addition, we could not function without our community volunteers. As teachers of more than half of our classes, we depend on you to share your expertise and passion. We have volunteers teaching Politics, Math, Film Theory, Philosophy, Script Writing, Art, History, Food Politics, and Mindfulness – and that’s just this term alone. Thank you. The teens are grateful for your generous contribution of your time and talents.
  4. Our Families: Despite the potential for societal criticism, our teens and their parents have made a decision that goes against the norm. This is brave. They have chosen to trust themselves and their teens to take charge of their own educations. You are the reason for our work. Thank you for making what feels like a leap of faith for many of you and for the trust you have in us.


I reiterate: our work is important. Thanks to all of you, our teens are free from of school-related existential crises (existential crises of a different brand we cannot speak to).

“At Compass I respond a lot better to people. It’s a constructive environment where everyone’s equal. Your opinion is valued, heard and respected. You can have an opinion. You don’t feel so controlled: “Oh- you want to go to the bathroom; do you really have to go?” You don’t want to leave a class to go to the bathroom here because the classes are interesting. And if you don’t find it interesting, you go to a class you do find interesting.”

Beyond the impact we have on our member teens and families, we demonstrate that learning can be a natural, joyful, choice-driven process. Happy belated Thanksgiving.