What draws teens to Compass? Sarah Vellino’s essay explores this in part and a reader might wonder how and why the environment at Compass is so non-judgemental and free from the bullying that occurs in many school environments. Two clues to answer this query can be found in both Sarah’s piece and that of her mother, Brenda Vellino. The first is noncoercion. Coercion and self-direction are antithetical; freedom to choose one’s goals and how to go about achieving them is naturally a hallmark of our model. Other side-effects to this cornerstone of our philosophy may include an environment in which people are, in general, happier and kinder to one another. As adults, do we enjoy being in environments where we have limited choice over how we spend our time and where we are allowed to put our bodies? How motivated do we feel to take intellectual risks when all we see before us is a gauntlet of pre-arranged tasks on which our performance is closely measured? Daniel Pink’s work in his bestseller, Drive, reports on the positive correlation between motivation and autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Why do we subject young people to things that we, as adults, not only find unpleasurable but also which reduces our own motivation to succeed?

The second is Brenda’s use of the phrase “refugee from the school system”. Many of the teens who come to Compass understand the high costs incurred from not fitting in in some way. They are highly invested in keeping Compass a safe, welcoming, and joyful environment.

Both the mother and daughter Vellinos write of the transformation in Sarah as a result. This is why so many Compass teens – either explicitly or implicitly – will welcome new teen members to Compass. Welcome, they’ll say. Welcome to where we feel at home.