by Ted Wachtel
Just because young people don’t want to go to high school doesn’t mean they don’t want to go to school. Many North Star members go on to college. Homeschoolers and North Star teenagers often do better without high school. This excerpt from a chapter in Kenneth Danford’s book, Learning is Natural, School is Optional, demonstrates how young people who pursue their own learning path can go to college—without going to high school.
A Simple Path to College
by Kenneth Danford
One remarkable experience for me was lifelong homeschooler Kara Lewantowicz’s use of our program. At age 15, she joined North Star as a way to meet more teens and explore a community and classes in a way that was different from her previous homeschooling. She wanted to have this experience prior to jumping into full-time community college, which she did at age 17, then moved on to UMass at age 18. By age 19, she had transferred to Colorado State University as a junior, to major in Wildlife Biology.
Kara had never gone to school. She used North Star, community college, and the University of Massachusetts to end up a year ahead of teens on the traditional high school-to-college path, saving two years of out-of-state tuition at a leading program in her field.
Really? It was this simple? A healthy teen who doesn’t go to school can end up ahead of her peers, while having a varied and in-depth homeschooling experience along the way? I saw the answer was “YES,” in clearer terms than ever before.
Kara was just one of many North Star members who helped me appreciate the community college system and the opportunities it presents. She was an academically successful homeschooler who used community college as a first step…I also saw high-achieving school students who felt bored or limited in school use North Star as a short-term transition program and then register for full-time community college as way to get a head start on the next phase of their lives.
The use of community college also extended to many other teens who had not been doing well in school. One dramatic story of this era is that of Marcella Jayne. When she was a member of North Star, Marcella began her essay in our March, 2000 newsletter:
In school I was a freak, a punk, an outcast, and nobody at all. I was afraid to be myself and afraid to try to be anyone else. School was never an enjoyable experience for me. I was picked on for not dressing like everyone else. I was called fat, ugly, stupid, and that is how I felt.
I tried to do well. I always did my homework and tried to keep up with my schoolwork, but from the beginning, I felt disconnected from everyone else. I felt as if I had some secret handicap that prevented me from doing as well as the others. I remember the day in the third grade when the teacher told me I was going to the Title One room during writing. I cried and screamed, “I’m not dumb!” I decided it would be my mission to prove them wrong, and I did.
(Spoiler: Marcella accomplished her third-grade mission, many times over. She is now a corporate lawyer for Foley and Lardner LLP, having graduated from Fordham Law School in 2018.)
Marcella had many positive experiences at North Star, but the staff worried that despite our best efforts, we might not be sufficient to help Marcella find traction to her next phase of life. In fact, when she moved on from North Star, things were pretty tenuous.
I was relieved and happy when I learned later that Marcella was at Greenfield Community College, and then that she had moved on to Mt. Holyoke College for her B.A. When she got accepted as a Stein Scholar at Fordham University law school, I cheered on her impressive determination. Marcella also became the mother of two girls during these years, and expressed her intention of offering her daughters the support and stability she had craved in her childhood. Marcella’s fierceness to achieve her goals educationally, professionally, and personally makes her unique among all the people I have known in my life, let alone through North Star. In fact, I suggest that Marcella’s story really merits its own separate book.
In the years of 1999-2002, Marcella’s path wasn’t clear when she was a teenager at North Star, but her experience layered with the others I have described in this chapter fueled my growing conviction in our approach. The combination of North Star’s fresh start and community college’s flexibility was providing a solid complementary framework for a wide range of teens wanting an alternative to high school.
Learning is Natural, School is Optional, from which this post is excerpted, is now available at Amazon.com. You may also order an autographed copy direct from author Kenneth Danford at his website. These direct purchases mean that Ken gets to keep far more of the proceeds from his sales. This money ultimately helps fund further development of the unschooling movement through North Star Self-Directed Learning for Teens.