In the meantime, June was a month of closure for a very successful year at North Star. The week after Memorial Day was devoted to student presentations, in which our teen members had an opportunity to share what they have accomplished this year, or to explain what homeschooling has meant to them. These continued on page 2 4
As July begins, all of our attention shifts to the exciting project of cleaning, renovating, and moving to North Star’s new home! We are moving just down the road to the Town of Hadley’s Russell Street School building. Our new address is 135 Russell Street. We are renting this building from the town, and we are collaborating with the town on the necessary renovations. The work is already underway, and we welcome volunteers and contributions to this process. We are always eager to show visitors the building, so please feel free to drop by if you are in the neighborhood and are curious to see inside. We will schedule a grand-opening party for sometime in August or early September.
At last year’s presentation, Madeline described how she had hated being in school. A young man who had been in school with her but had been having conflicts there exclaimed in disbelief, “But you were so good at school. You were the smartest kids in the class. You were friends with the teacher.” Her experience challenged him, and all of us, to think differently about the high-achieving teens in school he had assumed were happy there. This past year Madeline has settled into a routine and work-life that seems to suit her, and it gives us joy to see her so invested and so proud of her serious accomplishments. I appreciate her honesty in writing about her personal struggles, and we are glad to be an important part of her current life. —K.D. vvv
I never really felt challenged in school. I
presentations give our members a chance to learn important things about each other, and they result in a deeper respect for our community. This newsletter offers another forum for our teens to describe how they have been affected by homeschooling. Often, we learn that the teens have been affected in ways that are not always apparent to others. This issue features Madeline Barclay and Olivia Marti. These two young women are both apparently happy, cheerful, busy participants at North Star. People who meet Madeline and Olivia now and see them writing, drawing, and socializing at North Star would have little reason to guess or understand just how profoundly their current lives differ from their lives two years ago. I appreciate that they have taken the risk of sharing their deeper stories here; they remind me that amidst the flurry of activities and general excitement at North Star right now, our core purpose remains constant: to
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received A’s and B’s in my classes, but I never enjoyed myself. I am good at teaching myself and I learn fast, so I find being in a classroom where the teacher is also responsible for teaching over twenty other students incredibly unappealing. I feel that I am better at teaching myself, and better at learning through hands-on situations or when I am selfmotivated. Being in a classroom actually holds me back. I tried all sorts of alternative schooling; I went to six different schools before ending up at North Star, and I was in a gifted program in one of them. I enjoyed going to Hilltown Cooperative Charter Public School because I liked the people, and the classroom setting was slightly more relaxed. The students were on a first-name basis with the faculty, much like at North Star, giving us the opportunity to become friends with our teachers. However, I still felt that I wasn’t being allowed the freedom that I needed.
ries to write. My friends, peers, parents, and even occasionally my teachers would be shocked that I called these drawings ‘doodles’ because of their quality. I drew on my worksheets, my handouts, and even my planner, but I never had the time to write down the stories that I couldn’t stop developing.
In John F. Kennedy Middle School and Northampton High School I was at the top of my class. I went to honors classes and I got good grades, but that didn’t mean that I was happy. In fact, I was miserable. Throughout the first semester of 9th grade I was depressed, and I suffered from frequent emotional breakdowns. I was also suffering from a constant headache and scattered insomnia. By the end of January 2006, I wasn’t turning in any of my homework, yet I was still getting A’s and B’s in all of my classes. I was in no shape to continue school, but I hadn’t found any other options. On the Friday before our finals, one of my friends told me about North Star. She had been in a similar situation, and she had just gotten home from a meeting with Ken at North Star. She said that it sounded perfect for both me and her. I talked to my parents about it over the weekend, and we met with Ken on Wednesday. I started going to North Star the very next Monday, and I have never regretted it. I stay in touch with my other friends, and I have met a lot of amazing new friends while here.
Because school took so much time, I felt like I never had any time to be personally creative. I had emotional breakdowns almost twice a week and I suffered from depression, so I didn’t have very much inspiration or energy to spare. Even when I had time, energy, or inspiration, I didn’t really have a schedule or a supportive workshop to give me the motivation to continue on one specific story.
Out of all the subjects I am interested in, my two real passions are writing and art. When I was in school, I would doodle all over my assignments, and I never stopped coming up with ideas for sto-
I have been able to use better materials for my art since leaving school because I no longer have to doodle on papers that have lines or print on them. This makes my work look cleaner and more profes-
After leaving school, and taking a grace period in which I recovered some of my energy and inspiration, I started taking two different writing workshops and ended up writing at least twice a week. I spent about a year getting all of my fragments of stories down on paper and then came up with a story that I intend to turn into a novel. I now have almost forty pages of that novel written, and most of the outline as well. Although I’m not going to any writing workshops over the summer, I am going to get a group of some of my friends together to write.
News and Notes The final months at North Star this year seemed to consist of non-stop action. Our week of student presentations overlapped with the theater group’s production of The Good Person of Szechuan. The group offered four outstanding performances at PACE theater in Easthampton. These impressive productions provided the culmination of a yearlong effort that was the central activity for many of the participants. Congratulations to each of the performers, to the technical crew, and to Ellen Morf, the director. On June 10th, North Star held its third annual “Celebration of Self-Directed Learning.” We hosted 180 people at the
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Liberated Learners Summer 2007
help individual teenagers use homeschooling to improve their lives. These essays provide one type of confirmation of how important that purpose is.
p Pictures by Madeline sional, which makes me more likely to be satisfied with it. Having clean work also allows me to post it online in order to get more feedback. While I only had one portfolio before coming to North Star, I now have three binders full of art that I am proud of, and one binder filled with older art. In addition to keeping all of my art safe in folders, I have ensured that I won’t lose my writing by saving it on a flash drive that I keep with me at all times, as well as emailing it to myself so that I can access it from any computer with internet. I bring the binder that contains my best art with me at all times as well. Since coming to North Star, I have found a lot of amazing people who are just as interested in writing and/or art as I am. I find it inspiring to share my stories with others, and so North Star has become a perfect place to go for inspiration. There is always someone who’s interested, and there’s always someone who will listen and/or discus what I or they are writing about. The writing workshop at North Star has become a sort of community, where people know my stories and expect me to continue them. I find the knowledge that people actually enjoy hearing what I’ve written to be inspiring and motivating. Similarly, I look forward to hearing the other writers’ stories every week as well. The writing workshop that I take outside of North Star works the same way. It gives me the kind of structure that school lacked and that I thrive on.
American Sign Language from a friend of mine, and I’ve been volunteering at the Northampton Parents’ Center for four hours every Wednesday. My breakdowns have stopped, for the most part, and I am no longer depressed. I enjoy my days, and as a result I get along with my family better than I did before. I have more energy, and although my headache and insomnia have not gone away, they are much easier to cope with. If I have a particularly bad night’s sleep or a particularly bad headache, I am not required to go to any classes. I am in control of my schedule, so I get to make my own decisions based on what I think that I am up for. Also, because I haven’t been as exhausted or depressed I have been able to discover more and more things that help me get to sleep. Since coming to North Star, I’ve been happier, healthier, and more productive. I can’t imagine going back to school. It would take away the precious freedom that I value so much, and it would keep me from being who I am. North Star is honestly one of the best things that has ever happened to me.t
I have taken several other classes at North Star such as Logic, Psychology, Mystic Path, French, and Art. I have taken a short painting class outside of North Star, as well as an ongoing writing class, and another French class. I’ve also been learning a little bit about both belly dancing and Madeline Barclay 2006
Northampton Center for the Arts. These enthusiastic friends and supporters helped us honor this year’s SelfDirected Learning Award recipients, Black Snake Woman and Traveling Medicine Dog of Woodland Village, a camp in Montague. We appreciated the lovely brunch provided by North Star friends Bueno Y Sano, The Hungry Ghost Bakery, and Seeds of Solidarity Farm. North Star parents Martha Spiro and Sean Meyer spoke about how their lives have been changed by North Star, as did North Star member Ben Rosser. After being well fed and fully inspired, the brunch attendees generously responded to our appeal to help us continue our practice of working with all interested families, regardless of their ability to pay our membership fees. These donors gave over $19,000 for the current year, and made pledges over the next three to five years of another $18,000. We had one donor pledge to match continued on page 64 4
Dear North Star, Several years ago, after an exchange of email with Ken Danford, I visited North Star and found the experience quite moving. While what I observed – young people hanging out, taking a couple of classes, and going off to lunch didn’t seem all that out of the ordinary, when I thought about what they were actually doing and how much it differed from the norm, I knew it was extra-ordinary for sure.
o r t h
I am inspired by what is possible whenever I read Liberated Learners , and I want to express my support and encouragement for the work you do. Thanks, Michael Sklaroff Saugerties, NY
Dear North Star, Every issue I get of Liberated Learners I read immediately. I love hearing the kids’ stories. Meanwhile, my issues of Psychology Today and Family Therapy Networker pile up unread. Rock on, you guys! I am so impressed with your amazing organization and your amazing kids. Huge congratulations on your new home. I can’t wait to see it. If I had lots of money I’d send a lot more but reading your newsletter inspired me to give something. Happy spring and keep up the amazing work. All the best, Katherine Waddell, Therapist Northampton, MA
Liberated Learners Summer 2007
Dear North Star, THANK YOU for everything you have done for Ethan. North Star is not just a fun place to be and a cool place to learn, although it has certainly been all that and more for Ethan. Most important to me as a parent was that it saved Ethan. I bled for him as he endured his public school experience. My only regret is that Ethan didn’t come to North Star a year sooner. It does not take a huge leap of imagination to compare and contrast what Ethan’s life has been with what it would have been like without North Star. It has been an incredible experience watching Ethan recover and grow into a happy, intellectually curious person who genuinely enjoys being part of a caring community that values people of all ages, interests, and talents. I am convinced that this could not have happened in a conventional school setting. As an educator and a scholar, I am fascinated with North Star and the unschooling concept; I wish wellmeaning people in the world of education reform would pay more attention to it. As a parent, I know that we can’t afford not to. Thank you again for a fantastic six years and the bright future you have been instrumental in illuminating for Ethan. Barbara Mathews Mother of Ethan Mathews
(Editor’s note: Ethan will be attending the Commonwealth College Honors Program at the University of Massachusetts this fall.)
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the total given by the brunch attendees, and this gift will match both the short-term and long-term gifts. This unprecedented success means that North Star now has the funds we need to renovate our new building without worrying that this will prevent us from being able to provide scholarships to families who need that help. We now have resources to consider larger projects such as constructing a disability ramp at the new building and still retain some funds as a reserve for the future. We are grateful to everyone who participated in this monumental event! Amidst these end-ofthe-year activities, the North Star staff and Board of Directors has been involved in numerous outreach activities to share our work with others. On May 16th, Ken Danford and Susannah Sheffer presented a workshop about homeschooling and North Star at the Western New England Regional Social Work Conference. On May 19-20th, North Star
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This spring Olivia has been a central part of the witty socializing and verbal bantering that occurs in North Star’s main room. Her involvement, her laughter, her smile, and above all, her comfort make it hard to believe that she spent her first week at North Star looking at the floor and hardly talking to anyone. Olivia spent the first portion of her time with us quietly scouting things out until she felt safe; then she blossomed. I have always noticed Olivia’s caring and thoughtfulness and empathy, and I find it painful to hear how she felt socially ostracized during her school career. Her more relaxed and comfortable demeanor at North Star warms my heart and is one of the North Star stories I cherish. I hope her writing will inspire others to feel some measure of hope and empowerment. We all wish her well with her transition to college, and we will all miss her presence.—K.D. I have had unusual schooling since kindergarten when I began my Montessori years. As a school, Montessori worked well for me and I made some friends. The problem was that, as I reached the upper levels of the school, the amount of students my age dwindled. In my fifth grade year, after we came back from winter break, I was the only girl in my grade and the oldest girl in the school. Unlike the girls a grade below me, I enjoyed climbing trees more than talking about make-up and boys. Throughout that last year at Montessori, my parents and my neighbor and best friend’s parents had been discussing where the two of us should go. They decided on a local private school. At that school I spent a year being teased and ridiculed. Midway through the spring I knew that I would not be going back in the fall. Our next step was for me to go to public school for the first time in my life. If we thought that I would fit in better there, we were very wrong. The only way I made it through the day was knowing that when I got home my best friend would be getting home too, and we could go
climb trees and play like the old days. I made it through middle school at Hampshire Regional and then moved on to high school. It was not until I was in eleventh grade, when my mom was at a presentation where a former member of North Star talked about how well homeschooling had worked for her, that we realized that leaving school might be a possibility. We spent hours talking about it before we even set up our first visit with Ken, a year and a half ago. On the first visit Ken asked me a little bit about what I liked to do and after his big North Star speech he gave me a tour. In the following week I came and visited like many new members do. I did not want to give up my old school life completely so for the rest of the year I attended three classes in the morning at HRHS and then I took the PVTA bus to North Star where I would fill up my days with classes there. Being at North Star gave me lots of time to do the kinds of things I wanted to do. I was able to continue the music lessons that had become overwhelming when I was in school. The most important way I spent my free time away from North Star was helping my older sister with her children. I had time with my nieces that I never would have had if I were still at school. I also enjoyed going on several day trips with North Star. One of the most memorable North Star trips happened on my 17th birthday. It was a rock climbing trip and I learned how to belay, and I got to do it for Ken. In my two years at North Star, my favorite class by far was writing with Susannah Sheffer. In this class I was able to open up and explore my writing skills. Writing was something that never came easily to me, so a class that was dedicated to writing was perfect to keep me going once I left school. Susannah and the rest of the North Star staff helped me through a particularly rough patch last year, serving not only as teachers but as counselors as well.
At the end of June, Ken attended the Alternative Education Resource Organizationâ€™s annual conference in Troy, New York. He offered a well-attended workshop on how the North Star model compares to alternative schools and homeschooling co-ops. He also participated in panel discussion with Zoe Neill Readhead from Summerhill, Ron Miller from Goddard College, Jerry Mintz from AERO, and representatives of Montessori and Reggio Emilia approaches.
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Liberated Learners Spring 2007
hosted it first workshop for people interested in replicating our model. North Star Co-Founder and Board President Joshua Hornick organized and led this workshop for five participants, who came from Pennsylvania, Michigan, Nebraska, and Virginia. We have continued to be in touch with these people as they consider their own plans for the coming fall. We hope that this first effort will lead to more such workshops and conferences.
At the beginning of this year I decided that I wanted to continue the same kind of schedule, taking an English class and a Psychology class at HRHS and then going to North Star for the rest of the day. As the year went on I found that I was no longer filling every North Star moment with classes but instead I was socializing and having friends for the first time in years. As the year continued, my parents and I discovered that I only needed to take a few more classes at the high school and then I would be able to graduate and receive a diploma. This meant a lot to me because of all my school shuffling; I had never graduated from a school. In June I walked across the stage at John M. Greene Hall with the rest of my Hampshire Regional class and received my diploma. I wish I could return to North Star next year but instead I will be attending Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams, Massachusetts. This is a big step for me. Even though I will not be a member of North Star, I intend to come back and visit as often as possible because North Star has changed my life, and I don't care if that sounds cheesy. It was challenging to balance a schedule of high school and North Star, but being able to make friends and learn the way I wanted to learn was just what I needed.t
Our New Building
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North Star is a project of Learning Alternatives, Inc, a non-profit corporation under Massachusetts Law and Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.
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clip and mail to North Star 135 Russell Street Hadley MA 01035
Catherine Gobron and Ken will present a workshop for the first time at the local Northeast Organic Farming Association annual conference at Hampshire College in August. Meanwhile, this issue of Liberated Learners will end as it began: We are moving! Your help, your energy, your donations, your support are welcome as we undertake this huge project. We will be eager to share the update about our move in our next issue.
135 Russell Street (Route 9) Hadley MA 01035 413. 582.0193 or 582.0262 www.northstarteens.org
âŠł Our New Building!