North Star changes lives, and our members, our alumni, and their families love to talk about it! One member testimonial is written below. Visit the North Star website and for many more written and video testimonials.

For some people, public school just doesn’t work out so well, and I happen to be one of those people. I was miserable. Every day was a struggle, first to get out of bed, then to survive the bus ride with Crazy Mary at the front wheel, and to get through the school day while feeling like the whole world had turned on me. I felt different too; odd, and everyone let me know that they thought so, too. I was often made fun of for the clothes that I wore because I was a tomboy. I told people I preferred being more masculine than feminine and that if I had the choice, I would rather be a boy. I dressed in the largest hoodies and baggiest cargo pants I could find, and in sixth grade I signed all of my papers “A. Mann”. I struggled my entire sixth grade year to find an identity for myself, because I felt neither boy nor girl, male or female. I was scared to talk about it with any of my friends because I was afraid that they would ditch me.

I was even made fun of for having the last name Mann. You would have thought by middle school that everyone would have gotten over thinking that it’s weird when a girl who is really masculine has the last name Mann. Apparently not. I mean, it’s funny and I make jokes about it all the time, but I was tortured in middle school. People would trip me in the hallways, slip notes (not the good kind) into my locker, and write things on my folders when I wasn’t looking. I started hearing hisses of “Lesbo!” and “Dyke!” behind my back in the hallways. In the end, I pushed everyone away, so no one except for my three or four closest friends tried to get closer to me or befriend me. I was disagreeable, defensive, and mean, and went home each day to my books to escape. My best friends were Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Diana Wynne Jones, Frank Herbert, Brian Jacques, and Anne McCaffrey. I didn’t have to pretend to be someone else when I was with them. It was just me. Just Abby.

The summer I was going into 7th grade, I told my parents I wanted to homeschool that coming year. They could have said no, but they are amazing people. They completely supported my decision and helped me to create a curriculum. I started September 2003 with so much energy and life. It was a good month.

October rolled around, and I realized that I was not doing what I had planned to do. I had left school to get away from people telling me what to learn and what not to learn, and now my parents were doing that. Every day they gave me a list of things they wanted me to do, and I did them, usually without fail. So nothing had changed, I was just getting my orders from the parental units instead of the school system. And, in my typical swim-as-fast-as-you-can-into-the-jaws-of-the-shark way, I barricaded my parents into the kitchen one morning in the lonesome October and told them everything that I thought we were doing wrong in my newly formed education. It was ugly.

After my father (who was my primary educator) and I spent two weeks circling around each other all day snarling and such, my mom finally helped us come to a decision. We decided that my parents and I would make a set of goals together for the week, and then I would be left alone to accomplish them at my leisure. Surprisingly, this arrangement worked for the rest of the year. I was very lonely, considering that I was alone most of the time, but I still had so much time on my hands after my work got done to do anything that I wanted to. I read, cooked, built shelves in my closet, taught myself to play the guitar, filled notebooks up with my writing, and pursued my interest in studying religion and culture. I had also swam competitively for 7 years before that, and that year I did really well on a state level. I was the backstroke beast. Grrr....

The point is, I was finally getting to do things I really wanted to do, and I was still managing to get everything the school system and my parents wanted out of me done too. Fabulous!

The summer that I went into 8th grade, my brother (Mikey) decided to leave school...and so my parents sent me back to school. The idea was to give my brother breathing room while he transitioned from public school to this place called North Star, whatever that was. I certainly didn’t care. I was very wrapped up in being pissed off at my parents. The thing is, I only lasted in public school for four months before I told my parents that I was leaving school, for good this time, or they could duke it out with me. They didn’t argue. I left Paul R. Baird Public Middle School Christmas vacation of 8th grade. I burned everything that reminded me of that place as soon as I got home.

Two months later, in February, I got a phone call.

A very enthusiastic, very talkative man was on the other end of the line. He went by the name of Ken Danford and he asked me if I wanted to go to on a North Star marine biology trip to Georgia. I thought, What the hell? Georgia?

Long story short, I went to Georgia with four other North Star members and two amazing leaders to learn about the ecosystem down there. It was one of the most profound and amazing trips of my life. Words can’t describe how it felt to be accepted readily and quickly into a close-knit group of people who had been friends all year. I was happier than I had ever been in my entire life.

I became a North Star member in April 2005, half a month after the Georgia Trip. I won’t lie; things were difficult at first. Mikey and I had to learn to share the same turf and all the same friends. It wasn’t uncommon for us to blow up at each other during those first few months in the spring. People got pretty used to it, actually. Then my mom got sick in May, and things were really hard for the next two months. It was odd, being at North Star and finally feeling like I belonged somewhere, and then going home where things were more difficult than they’d ever been before.

I’ve been at North Star for almost two years now. I go there on a daily basis and go to a multitude of classes that are all interesting and full of magical and unbelievable people with huge brains and a lot to say. I’m about to go on my second big trip with North Star, this time to Costa Rica for eight days. I am very dedicated to theater at North Star and have committed half my life to it because it’s an amazing group of people and together we do great work, even if we are insane and have collective ADD. I also clean the fridge occasionally and play a lot of Tetris. I take pottery classes at the Northampton Pottery studio in the Guild on Main St. in Northampton, since my own studio at home was dismantled several months ago. I still read many books and play the guitar.

I think that the main thing happening in my life right at the moment is my family moving to Maine. As I type, I’m looking over at the gigantic box next to my bed filled with clothes and books. Next week, two days before Mikey and I go to Costa Rica, my family is moving to Saco, Maine, which is just south of Portland. It’s a huge life change, and I’m not going with them...yet. I have decided that North Star, the friends that I’ve made here, and the life I’ve created for myself in the last two years are worth staying for and worth fighting my parents for.

Since they told me they planned to move last April, I have been discussing with them plans for me to stay back. They are going to let me live with my grandparents, four miles down the road from North Star, but only until June. Then I leave for Maine for the summer, which I do every year. Next fall, I have no idea what will happen. I’ll cross that bridge when I get there.

So, as you can see, North Star has become quite a cornerstone in my life. I have grown into a completely different person since I got here, and I like the new me. Sometimes I talk too much, sometimes I’m very loud, and more than sometimes I’m self-righteous, but I have dear friends and wonderful mentors in my life, so it’s ok. The atmosphere at North Star is one that I can walk into every day and still feel like I’m safe, no matter what. It’s cozy, crazy, fun and sometimes smells bad, and I don’t mean the fridge.