Frequently Asked Questions
Don't see your question here? Contact us.
1 Why do teens and families choose North Star?
People choose North Star for a variety of reasons. The majority of teens come to North Star from a school experience, but some of our members are lifelong homeschoolers. Some North Star members arrive with honor roll grades and excellent school records, but feel bored and limited in school. Others have serious passions, such as art, music, or computer programming, and feel that school is an obstacle to the progress they really want to make. Some come because going to school has been an unpleasant experience socially, and they dread going to school each day. Still other teens have been doing well in school through 7th, 8th, or 9th grade, and now refuse to conform to the requirements of school anymore. They have chosen to accept the consequences for their non-compliance, and going to school has become little more than a test of wills. Some members arrive with diagnosed learning disabilities and special education plans, but feel that the help they are receiving in school is not useful, or in some cases, frustrating. They seek the opportunity to focus on their strengths while working on their challenges at their own pace. What each new member has in common is the willingness to leave traditional schooling and take responsibility for their own learning.
2 What about college and the future?
Most North Star teens go to college. North Star alumni have graduated from Brown, Columbia, M.I.T., Mt. Holyoke, Colorado State, UMass, Manhattan School of Music, Audubon Expedition Institute, and more.
Beginning at age 16, many North Star members begin experimenting with college courses at the Five Colleges or local community colleges, either for credit or as auditors. If a teen chooses to apply for full enrollment a GED is sometimes necessary, but not always, depending on the school. Most college bound students have no trouble passing this test, which is comparable to the MCAS in difficulty. North Star teens frequently use college credits to transfer into 4-year colleges as sophomores or juniors, sometimes years ahead of their school-age peers.
It is also possible to apply directly to a 4-year college for admission as a freshman. Most colleges have special applications for homeschoolers which may or may not require the SAT. In many cases being non-traditional learner is a great asset in college admissions. In our 13 years of experience, it has not proven to be a hindrance.
We have over 350 alumni. In a recent survey 95% of alumni respondents told us that joining North Star was a good or overwhelmingly positive experience for them. Most have gone on to attend college. Others have started their own businesses, travelled the world, and volunteered in charitable organizations. To read more about college and North Star CLICK HERE.
3 What about friends and a social life?
North Star is a very social place. Many members maintain their friendships with peers who are still in school while adding new friends to their social sphere. North Star offers the opportunity to meet a wide range of peers. We don't age segregate or limit attendance in classes so members get to know a much more diverse community than they might in school. Furthermore, we find that the absence of grading, either 6th through 12th or A through F, creates a non-hierarchical environment in which teens value each other for who they are without external bias. A 16-year-old is not considered "better" than a 12 year old, though likely they are in different places socially and emotionally.
We have noticed a consistent trend: cliques disappear. There are, of course, groups and close friends within our community, but our members are remarkably friendly and accepting. In a recent survey, 78% of our alumni said that the community and friends they made at North Star were among the most important things they experienced at North Star.
4 What if the teen is not a self-directed learner?
Taking responsibility for your own learning can be a long-term process. While some students leave school and jump right into a busy and productive life, many take months or even years to appreciate the opportunities of this lifestyle. In general, North Star has found that a young teen who does not seem to have major interests or passions may simply need time and space to consider this question. Many members have demonstrated remarkable maturation and change during the transition from ages 13 to 16, more than would be expected of a peer in school.
North Star staff supports each member where s/he is and who s/he is right now. We help teens identify and build on their strengths at their own pace. Challenges are addressed as the teen is ready. It is not necessary to arrive at North Star as a self-directed learner. We support each teen as they grow into their natural potential.
5 Is North Star a school?
While North Star is housed in an old school building and has some similarities to schools, we are not one. North Star is a community center run like a YMCA or club, offering classes, tutoring, trips and more. Legally, students at North Star under age 16 must become homeschoolers by submitting a homeschooling plan to their local school superintendent. North Star supports families in developing this curriculum. This process is usually straightforward and cordial. Students over age 16 may consider themselves homeschoolers, but there are no requirements or expectations on the part of their local superintendent. We work closely with each individual and his or her family to develop a academic plan that is both ideal and realistic. While there are no grades or mandatory attendance, our small size, close relationships, and high expectations for our members make success, however a family chooses to define it, the most likely outcome of a teen's participation in our program.
6 What are your hours?
North Star is open on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, 8:45-4:00. We are closed on Wednesdays to encourage our members to embrace other opportunities they might have such as internships, jobs, field trips, etc. We run on an academic year, opening early September and closing for the summer in early June. We take breaks in December and March. See our calendar for more specifics.
7 Does North Star have any requirements?
Academically speaking, no. We expect members to be trustworthy and to honor the efforts of those around them. The center must remain a safe and welcoming place for everyone present.
We do have a set of Expectations and Recommendations for members. All members must also sign a community agreement outlining their commitment to a drug-free and safe environment.
- Participate in making the center a pleasant place for everyone.
- Write the staff an introductory letter about themselves, their goals, and what they are seeking from North Star.
- Make a presentation to the group at the end of the year about how they have spent their time this year.
- Pay the fee or make serious efforts to fundraise or otherwise support North Star’s financial needs.
- Develop and pursue a set of independent projects outside of North Star.
- Ask for tutorial help from North Star staff as needed for independent projects.
- Participate in a set of three to ten classes at North Star with commitment.
- Volunteer or work for money a half-day or more per week.
- Meet with a North Star staff member every two weeks to discuss progress, interests, and new developments.
8 Who are your staff?
We have 8 core staff people. Ken Danford, Executive Director, Catherine Gobron, Program Director, and Ellen Morbyrne, Operations Manager, are at North Star full time. Lauren Wolk, Susannah Sheffer, Josh Wachtel, John Sprague, and Mauricio Abascal work at North Star part-time. We all teach classes, check-in with teens and their families, and do various administrative work.
In addition, North Star hosts anywhere from 30-40 additional staff members at any given time. We have work study relationships with all of the 5 Colleges and employ many work-study students who may teach classes, offer tutorials, and/or just be present in a mentoring way. North Star also benefits from an array of interns, community volunteers, and other professionals.
9 Do you host informational meetings or other community events?
10 What if I want to go back to school?
Sometimes a North Star member finds that the responsibilities of self-directed learning are more than he or she wants to accept. Occasionally a family finds the out-of-school dynamic to be more stressful for their families than school was. We have seen teens return to school for 9th grade after being at North Star during part or all of the middle school years. Every teen has returned to their appropriate age and grade level without conflict. Some have gone to elite private high schools such as Northfield Mount Herman and Stoneleigh Burnham. Returning to school for 10th, 11th, or 12th grade after homeschooling part of the high school years is less common and involves more negotiations with the host school, though it is possible.