Student-led American Sign Language class

Student-led American Sign Language class

In Our Community, In the World

by Ken Danford, Executive Director

Welcome to Year Twenty-Three! North Star has mostly picked up this fall where we left off last spring. We welcomed back a strong core of members and have enjoyed the influx of several fresh faces. Our staff and Board have continued relatively intact, and the community feeling at North Star remains professional, friendly, and joyful.

Some highlights of our Fall calendar have included a number of teen-led classes, including groups such as History and Myths, American Sign Language, and Debate. We also appreciate having parents and other adults from the community teaching Digital Photography, Essential Shelter, Making Writing Exciting, and Mindfulness. Some important perennial classes continue to anchor the calendar, such as Lunch Class three times per week, Band, and Theatre. Program Director Loran Saito continues to take students into the community through Local History and weekly volunteering at the Amherst Survival Center. Looking over the full set of titles on our calendar, I find it heartwarming to know that every class is somebody’s favorite.

We’ve had some special events as well, including our annual outdoor challenge day with Greenfield Community College’s Outdoor Leadership Program and an adventurous trip to Pioneer Valley Indoor Go-Karting. Loran is currently organizing this year’s service trip to Québec City, as well as our annual Bake-a-Thon, baking thirty pies for Amherst Survival Center’s Thanksgiving meal. We also welcomed Blake Boles, author and blogger about self-directed learning, as part of his national tour visiting a range of alternative learning programs and schools. His week at North Star included some workshops for teens and a formal presentation describing how teens can thrive without attending high school.

I have continued speaking with people around the country and even around the world about our model. Since the last issue of this newsletter, I traveled to Manila, The Philippines in July to support the launch of a Liberated Learners center there, Abot Tala. In the past few months, I have spoken with interested people in The Bahamas, India, England, and Canada, as well as San Diego CA, Allentown PA, and Belfast ME, among several others. In November, at the invitation of North Star friend Masha Gessen, I moderated a panel about the future of education for the Festival Albertine at the French Embassy in New York City. 

Our recent alumni are moving on to various new adventures: Elias Konturas building homes in Utah, Ben Becker teaching glassblowing in Massachusetts, Curtis Barletta working at Mt. Snow, Jake Swartz teaching classes at Whole Children in Hadley, and Jake Schnabel serving in The National Guard. Others are in their first years at four-year colleges, including Ellie Smith at Sarah Lawrence, Siena (Cici) Rose at Goddard, Evan Saito at Earlham, and Lilah Redonnet at Warren Wilson. Perhaps we’ll dedicate a future issue of this newsletter to alumni updates.

And as always, we’re proud of our members’ involvement in many and diverse community activities, as volunteers, as members of sports teams, and as participants in many community arts events—plays, music festivals, dance performances, and much more. 

As you will read in this issue in the Outreach Director’s report, the Board of Directors has chosen to change up some of our fundraising events this year. We are replacing the Celebration of Self-Directed Learning (“The Brunch,”) with a series of smaller events, including a very successful wine-tasting event in November. Stay tuned for invitations; we hope to see you at an event this year. In addition, Valley Gives Day has been discontinued by the Community Foundation. Instead, North Star invites you to include us in your end-of-year charitable giving. We are launching this process with a focus on the National Day of Giving, Tuesday November 27th. Your gifts make a difference in supporting our mission to make North Star accessible to every interested family.

In this issue, long-term member Sage Lucas shares a deeper and more personal tale of what North Star can mean on an individual level. Sage’s journey has been difficult, and North Star has been a stable and important community for her through these years. Speaking for the staff, we all value being part of this sustained process with a teen and family. We celebrate this moment of optimism for Sage, and I appreciate her being open to telling her story here.