Seeking to Mentor a Teenage Highschool Rise-Out

September 22, 2010

I just visited North Star in western Massachusetts . This is an absolutely, incredibly, indescribably amazing place. North Star helps teens and their parents to bridge the gap between schooling and homeschooling, but it's not a learning co-op, or even an "alternative school." Most particularly, it's for helping kids who are miserable in school, to get out. (See North Star's 7 Guiding Principles, pasted below.)

Imagine a place that is a sunny, bright community center for 58 really happy teenagers who like to play ping-pong and study capoira and math and current events and circus arts and gaming and travel and writing and painting and play, and where there are comics on the bathroom walls, and where people are happy about Being Alive at 10 o'clock on Monday mornings, and where there are tons of awesome mentors hanging around...and you'll get a tiny taste of how cool North Star is. (It's like Not Back to School Camp, but four days per week!)

The amazing part is that most of these teens, so obviously thriving now, were suffering terribly in school until very recently.

I want to start a North Star in Ithaca! But I'm not quite there yet, and I don't have Ken Danford's credentials, experience, or charisma.

But I am totally qualified to mentor a homeschooling teenager on the topic of homeschooling, and so I've got a new, grassroots goal for this year: I want to help a teenager rise out of school.

Can you help me find this teenager? Please e-mail me if you know of a potential high-school rise-out who might benefit from an adult homeschooling mentor in the spirit of North Star.

I would not charge for my services, since this would be my first client, and I'm thinking that I would meet with a teen and his or her family once or twice per week to start.

My Qualifications:

--I am a lifelong homeschooler, and a homeschooling mom.
--I have read and written extensively on the topic of homeschooling.
--I can offer support for a family who is new to homeschooling, and who has questions about how it all works in general, and how their teen could learn, be successful, and thrive outside of school.
--I have worked for Not Back to School Camp (as well as other teen organizations) for over twelve years, and love working with teens.

Necessary Qualifications for a Teenage Mentor-ee:

--Must be currently in school, but highly motivated to leave.
--Must be independent and capable.
--Must be in need of logistical, emotional, and/or creative support in order to rise out of high school.

Necessary Qualifications for a Teenage Mentor-ee's Parent(s):

--Must be willing to entertain the idea of their teen homeschooling, and be willing to work with their teen and me to make it possible.

Thanks for reading!
--Sarabeth Matilsky


Guiding Principles: Seven Principles that Inform Our Work at North Star

1 Young people want to learn.

Human beings are learning creatures. We don’t have to persuade babies to be curious and to seek competence and understanding. The same can be true of teenagers. Rather than trying to motivate teenagers, we support their basic human drive to learn and grow. Where obstacles – internal or external – have gotten in the way of this intrinsic drive, we focus on helping teenagers overcome or remove these obstacles.

2 Learning happens everywhere.

Conventional wisdom says that children “go to school to learn,” as though learning can only occur in places specially designed for that purpose. We believe that people learn all the time and in all kinds of places. It doesn’t have to look like school or feel like school to be valuable, and it’s not necessary to make distinctions between “schoolwork” and “your own hobbies” or “for credit” and “not for credit.” As one teenager who had recently left school observed, “Everything I do counts now.”

3 It really is OK to leave school.

Many young people who are miserable in school – academically or socially – stay because they believe that leaving school will rule out (or at least diminish) the possibility of a successful future. We believe that young people can achieve a meaningful and successful adulthood without going to school. We’ve seen it happen, over and over again.

4 How people behave under one set of circumstances and assumptions does not predict how they will behave under a very different set of circumstances and assumptions.

School success or failure is not necessarily a predictor of a child’s potential for success or failure outside of school. An unmotivated student may become enthusiastic and committed after she’s left school. A student who doesn’t thrive in a classroom environment may become successful when allowed to learn through apprenticeships or in one-on-one tutorials. When we change the approach, the structure, and the assumptions, all kinds of other changes often follow.

5 Structure communicates as powerfully as words – and often more powerfully.

It’s not enough to tell kids that we want them to be self-motivated, or that we want them to value learning for its own sake, if the structure of their lives and their educations is actually communicating the opposite message. Voluntary (rather than compulsory) classes, the ability to choose what one studies rather than following a required curriculum, and the absence of tests and grades all contribute to a structure that supports and facilitates intrinsic motivation and self-directed learning.

6 As adults working with young people, we should mostly strive to “make possible” rather than “make sure.”

Most of the time, we can’t truly make sure that young people learn any particular thing – learning just doesn’t work that way. A group of adults can decide that all fifth graders should learn fractions, but when it comes to each individual child’s genuine understanding and retention, we can’t actually make it happen or guarantee that it will happen. As adults, what we can do, however, is try to make things possible for young people – provide access, offer opportunity, figure out what kind of support will be most helpful, do whatever we can to help navigate the challenges and problems that arise.

7 The best preparation for a meaningful and productive future is a meaningful and productive present.

Too often, education is thought of in terms of preparation: “Do this now, even if it doesn’t feel connected to your most pressing interests and concerns, because later on you’ll find it useful.” We believe that helping teenagers to figure out what seems interesting and worth doing right now, in their current lives, is also the best way to help them develop self-knowledge and experience at figuring out what kind of life they want and what they need to do or learn in order to create that life. In other words, it’s the best preparation for their futures.