North Star was founded in 1996 by two middle school teachers who were looking for a better way to support teens. North Star is an inspiring and viable option for any teen in the Pioneer Valley to live and learn without school.
homeschooling, unschooling, alternative to school, self-directed learning
Also Known As
North Star: Self-Directed Learning for Teens
45 Amherst Road
Sunderland, MA 01375 USA
Student Services and Organizations (B80)
Secondary/High School (B25)
Educational Services and Schools - Other (B90)
IRS Filing Requirement
This organization is required to file an IRS Form 990 or 990-EZ.
How does this organization make a difference?
Self-reported by organization
What are the organization's current programs, how do they measure success, and who do the programs serve?
North Star membership
A Customized Academic Plan
Together we will envision and map a personal educational approach.
The academic plan will be based on the teen’s interests while also fulfilling the parent’s needs. North Star facilitates this process through discussion, brainstorming, and recommendations based on 16 years of supporting families through this process.
If the teen is under age 16 we will help you write this plan up as a homeschooling curriculum for submission to your local superintendent. This is a very straightforward process. Your superintendent's office will certify you as a homeschooler. This is the contract that makes leaving school legal for youth under age 16.
Each teen is assigned an advisor. Through regular meetings we help imagine and realize goals, track progress, and facilitate tutorials and community connections.
This relationship is at the core of the North Star experience.
Together North Star staff will meet with your family at least three times per year to envision possibilities and to review achievements. More meetings are scheduled as requested.
Parental involvement is expected. There are many opportunities for parents to be a part of our community.
Classes, Workshops, and Tutorials
North Star offers classes, workshops, and tutorials between the hours of 9:00 AM and 4:00 PM, four days per week.
Our classes represent the interests and passions of our current collection of staff and range from biology to yoga and anywhere in between. Most classes have fewer than 10 students. We have a core staff of long-term professionals and a large, extended staff composed of work study students from all of the five colleges, interns, and community volunteers currently ranging in age from 17 to 70.
North Star provides tutoring in a wide range of subjects, such as mathematics, foreign language, guitar, and computer programming, as available.
A New Way to Approach Learning, Education, and Life
Our focus is on the individual and his or her particular strengths, needs, and goals. We meet teens where they are and support them in becoming whomever they want to be.
Rather than focusing on weaknesses, we ask: "What are you good at? What do you love to do?" and build from there.
North Star has been a thriving organization improving the lives of young people in the Pioneer Valley since 1996. In recent years the model has begun to spread and there are now eight centers across North America using the North Star model to support teenagers to create the life they want.
Anonymous surveys as well as direct feedback.
Read many testimonials here: http://northstarteens.org/testimonials/
Children & Youth (0-19 years)
Youth/Adolescents only (14 - 19 years)
Josh Wachtel leads the Music Program at North Star. The program includes many available group classes from chorus to improv to rock band, as well as individual music lessons.
The music program at North Star has been a powerful presence in the lives of many North Star teens. Some teens arrive at North Star already seeing themselves as musicians and North Star gives them the support and time to build and develop their art. Many of our alumni have gone on to become professional musicians and/or work in the music industry. Our alumni have gone on to Berklee School of Music and Manhattan School of Music, among others.
Other teens arrive at North Star without confidence or positive experiences in music and North Star gives them to opportunity to explore music at their own pace and without pressure. North Star is an extremely welcoming and safe environment where teens often find themselves taking on challenges and building skills in areas that had previously felt impossible and inaccessible. Many teens become musicians at North Star having never seen themselves this way in the past.
Youth/Adolescents only (14 - 19 years)
Ellen Morbyrne has been directing the theater program at North Star for 10 years. In recent years she has been joined by co-director Nia Steiner.
Through our theater program teens thoroughly explore the art of theatre: ensemble-building, heightened physicality, dynamic vocal techniques, scene study and text work (both for scenes and for monologues), physical improvisation (solo and as an ensemble), and Improv exercises. Based on student interest, we present fall and spring Sharings of work done in class, and we will support the preparation of pieces that students might wish to share at the North Star Variety Shows. Fully-staged plays are audition-based and open to the whole North Star community – casting decisions are commensurate with actors’ demonstrated commitment, as well as talent, ability, and compatibility with available roles and other actors.
The theater program at North Star has been a powerful presence in the lives of many North Star teens. Some teens arrive at North Star with an already strong interest in theater and North Star gives them the support and time to build and develop their skills. Many of our alumni have gone on to study theater and acting as undergraduates. Our alumni have gone on to major in theater at Smith College, The New School, the American Academy for the Musical and Dramatic Arts, and Holyoke Community College, among others.
Other teens arrive at North Star without confidence or positive experiences in theater and North Star gives them to opportunity to explore this art form at their own pace and without pressure. North Star is an extremely welcoming and safe environment where teens often find themselves taking on challenges and building skills in areas that had previously felt impossible and inaccessible.
Youth/Adolescents only (14 - 19 years)
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The people, governance practices, and partners that make the organization tick.
Co-founder of North Star, Ken has been working intensively with teenagers and their families since 1991. Previously a middle school social studies teacher, first in Prince George’s County, MD, then in Amherst, MA, Ken left the Amherst school system to found North Star. He brought with him extensive education and training, including a B.A. from Amherst College in Psychology and an M.A.T. in Social Studies from Brown University.
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Does the board conduct a formal orientation for new board members and require all board members to sign a written agreement regarding their roles, responsibilities, and expectations?
Has the board conducted a formal, written assessment of the chief executive within the past year?
Have the board and senior staff reviewed the conflict-of-interest policy and completed and signed disclosure statements in the past year?
Does the board ensure an inclusive board member recruitment process that results in diversity of thought and leadership?
Has the board conducted a formal, written self-assessment of its performance within the past three years?