A Deep Dive into a New Style of Learning

Voices from the Field | Learner Voices   22 August 2023
By Charlotte Myers and Fin Sandberg


To us, a learner-centered school means that we, kids, have the chance to blaze our own trail.

Fin Sandberg
Trailblazer, The Village School

Hi, we are Fin and Charlotte, seventh-grade Trailblazers at The Village School (TVS), a learner-centered school in Arlington, Virginia. As Trailblazers, we are young learners who are on a journey to find our passion, inspire others, and change the world. We have both attended TVS for the past three years, and we’ve learned a lot about ourselves since we got here. For example, we’ve learned that we enjoy things that we didn’t even know existed before, like numismatics—the study or collection of coins and paper currency—and biomimicry—designing products or materials that are modeled on biological entities and processes.

TVS is based on a learning design that focuses on one person’s abilities and is dedicated to giving every individual the help and attention they need—while allowing time for independence, creativity, and character-building skills along with all the typical school subjects. There are three important pillars of learning at TVS: learner-centered, project-based, and character-based. Everything we do revolves around these three pillars—and it’s what makes TVS such a unique, fun, and wild place to learn.

As we kick off another year of learning at TVS, we wanted to share what these pillars mean to us and how they show up in our learning each day. 

Pillar 1: Learner-Centered

TVS is designed around the learner. We are given the responsibility to complete our own work during the schedule provided by the guides, whose mission it is to support us as we complete our goals and move forward in our journeys. We choose the path that we want to take and do work at our own pace, taking the time that we need to finish each project. 

To us, a learner-centered school means that we, kids, have the chance to blaze our own trail. 

Charlotte: During my first year at TVS, the school had just grown a significant amount, with most of the learners being new. The first month of that year was quiet, most of us getting used to the new systems. As the year progressed, we all grew as a community that is still in place today. The first year, I didn’t entirely finish fourth grade. I was a few months short on math and was still getting used to being responsible with my own time. But during my second year, I finished fourth, fifth, and got into sixth grade a month before summer! The design for the school may seem different at first, like it did to me, but in time, you will figure it out and grow toward your goals. 

Fin: The learner-centered experience we are in at TVS is truly amazing. For me, it means that I can get work done at my own pace and also, not get work done at all. For some people, that may feel negative, but it helped me learn that you need to accept your mistakes, own up to them, and learn from them. I also feel much more engaged in my learning because whenever I finish something, I now think, “Let’s do that again!” instead of, “Phew, I’m done.”  


There are three important pillars of learning at TVS: learner-centered, project-based, and character-based. Everything we do revolves around these three pillars—and it’s what makes TVS such a unique, fun, and wild place to learn.

Charlotte Myers
Trailblazer, The Village School

Pillar 2: Project-Based

Instead of focusing on tests and homework, TVS prefers to have learners experience hands-on activities in the real world. An example of this is the middle school apprenticeship, which is similar to an internship. While apprenticeships are usually introduced as an option in high schools, here the sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-grade learners are given the opportunity to go out and experience real-world jobs. Another example of our project-based pillar is our approach to learning things like social studies, science, math, and English. Instead of writing a paper about the ancient Greeks, we dive deep into the history of the Greeks, build sculptures and machines, and focus on the learning instead of the grade. 

Charlotte: My favorite project of the year was the speeches that middle school learners wrote and shared in the Kennedy Caucus Room of the Senate building. The speeches were ten minutes long, and we were challenged to write about a world-changing or highly impactful topic. The speeches were one of the more complex projects that we have completed this year, but they were still 100% enjoyable.

Fin: The Biomimicry study was one of my favorites because it took many of my favorite interests, like technology, brainstorming, and nature, and combined them into one big project. We were challenged to enter an international contest where young people submitted biomimicry inventions that addressed one of the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations. My partner and I created self-cleaning solar panels inspired by the technology of a self-cleaning lotus flower. It was challenging, but fun to work on and every day, and I would always look forward to quest time over those six weeks. When it came time to submit our completed project to the competition website, I felt really accomplished and that was why this was my favorite quest.

Pillar 3: Character-Based

TVS builds character through different systems. Leadership opportunities with younger children, the stories we have the option to publish, and the middle school apprenticeship system are just a few examples. Character, teamwork, and a growth mindset towards learning are the qualities that the learners are expected to have and to grow with them as the year progresses. Everyone who comes to the school shows growth in teamwork and collaboration; many of the projects are done in groups. 

Fin: One of my favorite experiences, as I’m growing as a learner and trailblazer, is the Learning To Live Together Badge Presentation. This is a chance that we have to look back not only on the work we have accomplished throughout the year, but also on our emotional and leadership opportunities, how we work through them, and how we take hold of them and use them to help the community. I especially like this presentation because it means that you can look back on hard situations and learn from them. It also really helped me with setting goals for the future because I understood that sometimes I avoided or handled some situations or leadership opportunities poorly. But now, I’m prepared to make a difference and try to handle situations better as we start a new year.

Charlotte: Another way the school involves growing character is in the frequent opportunities to help others. The older learners are given chances to mentor the younger ones, by sharing feedback on projects, monitoring their projects, reading stories, and even creating pop-up hot chocolate or lemonade stands for the whole school. We also often put together book bundles to donate to the kids at a nearby homeless shelter. Participating in these activities helps us to grow character, which is important now and later in life.

TVS is a learner-centered community where we are taught to blaze our own path, not to follow one already made. This is learning that matters to us, and will prepare us for the future.

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