North Star Self-Directed Learning for Teens

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North Star: Self-Directed Learning for Teens
North Star staff and teens.jpg
Gathering of teens and staff (2010)
45 Amherst Road
Sunderland, Massachusetts 01375
United States
Coordinates 42°27′55.5″N 72°34′34.1″W / 42.465417°N 72.576139°W / 42.465417; -72.576139Coordinates: 42°27′55.5″N 72°34′34.1″W / 42.465417°N 72.576139°W / 42.465417; -72.576139
Type Self-directed learning center
Motto "Learning is natural. School is optional."
Established 1996 (1996)
Founders Kenneth Danford, Joshua Hornick
Director Kenneth Danford
Staff 8 (2016)
Age range 11 to 19 years
Enrollment 60+
Affiliation Nonsectarian
Alumni 500+
Information fee-based, nonprofit

North Star: Self Directed Learning for Teens is a self-directed learning center in Sunderland, Massachusetts, founded in 1996. North Star's mission is to help teenagers find ways to learn and excel outside of traditional middle school and high school. It offers a noncoercive learning environment without required classes, grades, or tests.[1] Members range in age from 11 to 19 years old. Both previously-schooled teens and long-time homeschoolers attend the center. As of 2015, North Star has over 60 members[2] and over 500 alumni from all over the Pioneer Valley and beyond.

North Star was founded by two Massachusetts middle school teachers who were frustrated with a system that forced students to attend their classes.[3] In contrast, North Star supports teenagers to self-direct their own education, offering a program of optional classes, tutoring, trips and community events, taught and organized by North Star's professional staff and an extensive network of volunteers. Each North Star member is paired with an advisor who supports and encourages the teen as they transition to self-directed learning.[4] The center is funded through sliding-scale tuition and donations.


Russell Street School building in Hadley, Massachusetts

North Star was founded as Pathfinder Learning Center by Kenneth Danford and Joshua Hornick in 1996. After reading Grace Llewellyn's book The Teenage Liberation Handbook they both quit their jobs as middle school teachers to create a center that would make what Llewellyn described possible for teenagers in their area.[3]

In 2002, the center was renamed North Star: Self-Directed Learning for Teens,[5] and in 2007 the center moved in to the historic Russell Street School building in Hadley, Massachusetts.

In June, 2015, North Star moved to Sunderland due to safety concerns with the Russell Street building.[6]


Using homeschooling as a tool to get out of school, North Star works personally with each teen and their family to create an educational plan that is supported by North Star's staff and teachers. This customized plan consists of a staff adviser, parent conferences, and classes, tutorials, workshops, or tutoring if desired and available. North Star works with every interested family, regardless of ability to pay tuition or fees.[5]

Classes, tutorials, and workshops are taught by staff members, volunteers, or college students through work-study. Classes are scheduled Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, and the center is closed on Wednesdays and weekends. Attendance is non-compulsory and there are no required classes.

The North Star model[edit]

Since 2010, a number of self-directed learning centers have opened in both the United States and Canada, using the approach and program pioneered by North Star. The centers are part of the Liberated Learners network which supports people to create centers based on the North Star model.[7]


  1. ^ "North Star | Guiding Principles". Retrieved 2016-02-26. 
  2. ^ Davis, Richie. "North Star celebrates 20 years of self-directed learning for teens at new home in Sunderland". Retrieved 27 February 2016. 
  3. ^ a b Turner, Maureen. "The Unschool". Valley Advocate. Retrieved 27 February 2016. 
  4. ^ "Liberated Learners | What Is the North Star Model?". Retrieved 2016-02-20. 
  5. ^ a b "School is optional - The story of North Star". Retrieved 2016-02-02. 
  6. ^ "North Star to move from Hadley to Sunderland in June after 13 years in town". Retrieved 2016-02-02. 
  7. ^ Robinson, Ken (2015). Creative Schools: The grassroots revolution that's transforming education. New York, New York: Viking. p. 56. ISBN 978-0-670-01671-6. 

External links[edit]