Written by Manon van Mil, Compass volunteer since January 2014

I started teaching Cognitive Science at Compass in January 2014 and now teach three classes and facilitate a Roots & Shoots project. I discovered this opportunity via co-founder and co-director André Morson, who I met on our shared porch. I chose to volunteer because I agree with Compass’ guiding principles and also because I would have benefited from membership at Compass as a teen – so naturally I want to make it a more accessible option for others.

If you found my high school transcripts, you might have believed that I was thriving in school: I had a high GPA and most of my teachers’ feedback was positive. Yet I felt overwhelmed and was developing bad habits. By 15, I was regularly pulling all-nighters. More importantly, I wasn’t developing good habits such as time management. I clearly wanted to learn – I skipped classes to read and write in the library! I just didn’t feel like school was teaching me how.

Now I spend summers heading the outdoor pursuits, out trips, and overnights program at a summer camp and outdoor education centre. Compass’ guiding principles read like a list of lessons that I learned at Camp Muskoka. Most are directly supported by research I have encountered studying Cognitive Science and Psychology in my undergraduate degree. For example, one of the first observations I made at Camp Muskoka was that “young people want to learn.” Human beings are altricious; that is, it takes us a long time and many mistakes to learn what we need to. People are born wanting and willing to learn. We need positive institutions to help people retain or reclaim a growth mindset!

Another was that “learning happens everywhere.” It happens in classrooms. If you capture teens’ attention, it might even be about what you had intended. Otherwise, it happens while we are adventuring, discovering, reading, drawing, arguing, programming, playing, performing, asking questions, being asked questions, seeing animals close up, etc.

One of the most enjoyable parts of volunteering at Compass is seeing the diversity of learners come together in the classroom – or on the beanbag chairs in the office. Every class that we make together – contributing our own ideas, experiences, knowledge, and personalities – is greater than any class I could have created alone.

I recently attended a performance of Jesse Stewart, an award-winning percussionist, composer, and improviser – an opportunity I might not have taken advantage of prior to volunteering at Compass. Jesse played unconventional instruments during his concert, or he played usual instruments in unusual ways. He dropped hundreds of keys, drummed using skewers, and played a disassembled music stand like a flute. Yet he played an incredible show. Compass might be an unconventional education for teens, but it can help teens help themselves to create a meaningful, incredible life.

Jesse invited the audience to contribute using the Adaptive Usable Instrument (AUI) software application. The audience is always part of the show, but we experienced it in a new way, playing notes on the Indonesian scale pelog via movement detection. We created exciting, unexpected, exceptional music together which was, in my opinion, the perfect metaphor for what Compass represents.