~Compiled by Patti S, edited by Delana S~
[Admin note: This post is now based on information that is 5 years old. NorthStar has undergone many great changes through the years. Keep in mind that that there will be some differences today from families that used NorthStar 5 years ago.]
First Year Struggles
One family’s experience with NorthStar
The year had its ups and downs and was very stressful for a good bit of the year. First of all, NorthStar is very technical, which is the nature of the school so it is to be expected. You must know the computer pretty well. Just setting up the computer for classes to begin can take a week or so. We really didn’t have much trouble with this part except for a computer class. It took my husband about three weeks just to get that class up and running. NorthStar does send out DVD instruction that helps greatly with set up, plus they are really good about answering e-mail questions quickly.
NorthStar lessons for one day are intense with lots of material to cover. The school offers flexibility but not freedom like traditional home schooling. When we first started and I saw that you cannot be more than three weeks behind, I laughed because I thought: “How crazy to be more than three weeks behind!” Then it happened to us. Getting behind occurred when my son had trouble with an assignment, and then had to do the week’s assignment over. I learned after talking to other NorthStar parents that this was fairly common for many students. Getting caught up was not easy – we worked every day for weeks to get things all back in order.
For us, NorthStar is good. We need some accountability to stay on task plus NorthStar helped us to face areas of weakness. My son is very verbal and does great answering questions orally – but writing skills are terrible, test taking skills are terrible, so we are working on it at least.
NorthStar teachers are tough and have high expectations from their students. Some of the work was really hard and required some research and deep thinking skills. They require that every answer be written in sentences with good sentence structure (which about killed my son). They are very much into writing skills and essay questions. For me, the teachers were great reinforcement to what I had already been telling him. I didn’t always have to be the bad guy!
At first, I loved NorthStar because I felt like my son was more independent – my mistake. Then I realized that he was doing lessons quickly and not at all like they were supposed to be done so I had to take his freedom away and start more or less homeschooling. As I read notes from other parents – this was the case for them also. I guess I just thought this was an easy answer to schooling – but it has its own set of problems. I was really kind of upset with NorthStar for a while. I felt like the rules that they had told me for parent involvement were untrue. But then I had to look at the situation and place the blame on my son and me.
NorthStar does have student council (with elections and everything).
They have chat time between students and about 12 or more clubs that
students can get involved in. In that respect it at least makes the
students not feel so isolated from other students. The students do meet the others in their classes through group discussions that they post in a class folder. Plus they have a year book committee: the yearbook is posted at the end of the year online.
Overall, NorthStar has worked for us. We are using it again this year. I think this year will be a much better year because we know what we are doing. My son knows more of what is expected of him and I will be more involved from the start. Online time for us is not a problem. Really you only have to be on line for about 30 min. per day. Caution: Anyone who does not have a good online connection (especially in the mornings) should not use NorthStar.
Second Year Returnees
Another family’s journey with NorthStar
We are in our second year with NSA and it works great for our family. Our first year was tough. It took a while to learn the system (how to send work with correct headings, learning how to use the computer, etc.) and we also moved three times during the school year. The kids got a little behind because of our moving around and it was HARD to catch up. NSA requires that the mom or supervisor be organized. Although it saves me time not having to prepare lessons and grade their work, I must set aside time daily to make sure that their assignments are getting finished and they are keeping on schedule. NSA works great for our family, because it allows me to have more time for our one year old, more time for reaching out in my community, and I know that our kids are getting a great education that is preparing them for college.
One thing that I like about NSA is that the teachers are readily available to help when we need them. For example, our daughter had a problem in math that I couldn’t help her figure out. We found her teacher on line through the school system, and set up a private chat. She led us through the problem and answered our questions as they came up. It was wonderful having help when we needed it, so she could go on to the next problem, and not have to wait. [Editor’s note: If you are in a different time zone from NSA, you could have to wait a day to receive help with a problem.]
The classes are challenging and not boring. The teachers create lessons that compliment the textbooks, so the kids aren’t just reading the text and answering questions at the end of each chapter. The creativity of the NSA teachers brings the lessons to life. Our family especially enjoys the history and Bible classes. Our kids are learning so much! I also like the fact that all the teachers are Christians and the lessons direct the students to explore what God’s word says about the particular topic they are studying.
NSA has helped them improve their computer skills. I am amazed at the power point presentations that the kids make for some of their assignments. The computer skills they are learning are valuable tools that are helping prepare them for college.
Some disadvantages might be that our kids were used to reading a lot more because we had done Sonlight in the past. The English courses might be a little too easy for my kids. I try to compensate by requesting additional readers from the resource room and encouraging them to read more literature. [Editor’s Note: Our family found this true in 7th-9th, but found it increasingly challenging in 10th-12th.]
Last year the kids didn’t have much time for the “fun stuff” NSA offers because we were just trying to keep up with school work. But this year is different. They are making friends through the student cafe and interest clubs. There is a special club for third culture kids that our kids enjoy. They enjoy “chatting” through the school software with students from around the world (Germany, Ecuador, Brazil, Russia, the Middle East and more!)
Not all the NSA students are Christians though, and I’ve been encouraged when I see how my kids stand up for what they believe in. I’ve read some comments that my kids have posted in the student cafe about music, dating, purity, prayer requests, etc., and I am encouraged when I see how God is using my kids to lead others to know Him better.
As you can see, our family is very thankful for the ministry that NSA offers to our children. I believe that it is a ministry, because they are offering a wonderful program for my kids and I have more time to be involved in my community. Before NSA I would spend 6-7 hours a day teaching and about 4 hours on Saturday planning for the following school week. Now I help the kids 1-2 hours a day (mostly with math & science experiments and studying for tests). You can see how much more time I have now to take care of the needs of the house, love on the baby, spend time in personal Bible study, work alongside my husband and branch out in extra interests.
Also see: Online Schooling: Who is Cut out for it?