Know students who are struggling in school? Catalyst Learning Network can help.

Know students who are struggling in school? Catalyst Learning Network can help.

While it’s not uncommon to hear students say “I hate school,” some are really suffering and desperately want out.

I can relate.

I became an educator not because I loved school, but because I was bored and miserable in school. I wanted to figure out how to change that for others. I started this blog to share ideas about how to do that.

Like my own experience, many students today are bored and disengaged for many hours each day, despite the best efforts of their teachers and parents to try to help them make the most of school. Many are depressed. They feel a complete lack of control over their lives, and have a bleak view of the future.

Some of these kids, having Googled “I hate school,” find their way to, a support site for kids who can't stand school.While School Survival offers a much-needed sense of community and a path out of darkness for many students, this often leads them to want a path to pursuing their interests and life-relevant learning, in contrast to the boredom and stress they experience in school.

Their parents often are at a loss and unaware of alternatives and realities of paths for success to pursue that don't include school. (Note: For those parents, this group can help.)

For students, models like North Star Self Directed Learning for Teensexist in some communities. North Star is a center for community-based education functioning like a YMCA. Member teens choose from among a wide array of educational options depending on their needs and interests. It was founded in 1996 by two middle school teachers and serves teenagers who prefer to pursue their educations outside of traditional schooling.

Here’s is how students who attend North Star felt about the school:

Oliver lost interest in school around age 12, suddenly bored and apathetic.

Ariana's budding professional career left her little time for school.

Madeline was a straight-A student in school, but miserable.

Mikey felt out of place in school.

Matt's school focused on his weaknesses but he wanted to focus on his strengths.

Raphaela was a miserable 10th grader with big dreams.

Jen was artistic, talented, and unsatisfied.

Adam was brilliant and bored silly in school.

But, North Star -- and the growing network of programs based on its Liberated Learners model -- are location-based, rather than online. This still leaves students who have connected via places like School Survival at a loss. They are a community connected not by location, but rather by a common plight. They are all over the United States and elsewhere around the world, For many, they are far from options other than school-as-usual.

This is a problem that Brendan Heidenreich and Lisa Cooley have come together to tackle. They are forming a community called Catalyst Learning Network (CLN) for these students. It combines the online community model of School Survival, with the North Star model, where self-direction is combined with learning support and parent engagement from experienced educators.

Here is a look at one of the students involved in School Survival and some words from CLN founder, Brendan Heidenreich and education expert Mitch Resnick (MIT Media Lab).

The Catalyst Learning Network will provide a website which will include guides and articles to help students and their parents make sense of their struggles and learn about options. It will do promotion and research to connect with the larger audience that might find these resources and Catalyst's program, services, and resources helpful. Most importantly, it will work to help teens who are unhappy in school find a path to success.

CLN needs help to get started and keep going. You can be a part of this work by contributing to their campaign by visiting This program will be a godsend to struggling students. The campaign provides a rare opportunity to be able to contribute to a cause where you can clearly see your dollars helping young people. Show support for struggling students by donating whatever you can at

Lisa Nielsen writes for and speaks to audiences across the globe about learning innovatively and is frequently covered by local and national media for her views on “Passion (not data) Driven Learning,” "Thinking Outside the Ban" to harness the power of technology for learning, and using the power of social media to provide a voice to educators and students. Ms. Nielsen has worked for more than a decade in various capacities to support learning in real and innovative ways that will prepare students for success. In addition to her award-winning blog, The Innovative Educator, Ms. Nielsen’s writing is featured in places such as Huffington Post, Tech & Learning, ISTE Connects, ASCD Wholechild, MindShift, Leading & Learning, The Unplugged Mom, and is the author the book Teaching Generation Text.

Disclaimer: The information shared here is strictly that of the author and does not reflect the opinions or endorsement of her employer.

Lisa Nielsen (@InnovativeEdu) has worked as a public-school educator and administrator since 1997. She is a prolific writer best known for her award-winning blog, The Innovative Educator. Nielsen is the author of several books and her writing has been featured in media outlets such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Tech & Learning.  

Disclaimer: The information shared here is strictly that of the author and does not reflect the opinions or endorsement of her employer.