Ken Danford ’88, who walked away from a potential career as a school administrator to found a nontraditional learning center for teens, has a new book out, and the Greenfield Recorder’s Richie Davis spoke with him about it.
Danford taught public school in Maryland and eventually grew disillusioned with his career path while teaching in Amherst. He dropped out of a UMass doctoral program in school administration, to launch North Star (originally called Pathfinder) with Joshua Hornick in 1996, as a resource for teens who want to pursue their own interests without school.
His new book, Learning is Natural; School is Optional, discusses his motivations behind starting North Star as an alternative to more traditional middle and high schools. The Sunderland-based program enrolls about 60 teens each year for classes, one-on-one tutorials, and self-directed activities and volunteer experiences.
“North Star, Danford is quick to point out, isn’t a school,” Davis writes. “Attitudes among parents have changed since North Star was created, he says, and it’s now easier to explain it as ‘a clubhouse to help you home school’”.
“It’s still a misunderstood movement, but more people have somehow been touched in their neighborhood or extended families with the idea that someone’s being homeschooled, so it’s a little less of an uphill climb right now. And that doesn’t have to mean getting the curriculum at home. It can mean doing alternative stuff,” Danford said.
The center, which recently ended its fourth year in its fourth location, has helped 800 students from within a 40-minute radius. A number of similar centers throughout the country belong to a network following the North Star model.