Why the Freedom to Choose Transformed My Future

Learner Voices  02 March 2017
By Bryce Bragdon


This experience exposed me to the possibility of what I could achieve.

Bryce Bragdon
Learner, Hall-Dale High

FOR THE FIRST NINE YEARS OF MY EDUCATION (K-8), I was in a school-centered learning environment. When seventh grade rolled around, I started noticing the barriers of this system. I remember entering my history class one day with all of my homework complete, ready to move on with my learning. Unfortunately, a majority of the class came in with the work incomplete, so the teacher simply allowed the kids to work on the assignment during class rather than teach anything new. This left me with nothing to do, which I didn’t believe was right or fair.

This wasn’t an isolated occurrence—students not doing their work and slowing many of us down. This occurred on a weekly basis, and it would get very frustrating. I felt like I was being held back from achieving my full potential.

The summer of my seventh grade year, I attended a guitar learning rock camp. For the first time, I was shown what I could do when a healthy work load was given to me. The camp made me work really hard. This experience exposed me to the possibility of what I could achieve. Reflecting back on my school experience, I now knew I was capable of so much more than I would ever be able to show in these circumstances.

Finally, in 2015, I began high school at Hall-Dale in Farmingdale, Maine, which uses a learner-centered model of education. This school allowed me to break free from the chains that were holding me back all those years.


Since my work had something to do with a skill I want to build in the future, I was interested in my learning.

Bryce Bragdon
Learner, Hall-Dale High

It began with what I thought was my biggest weakness and least favorite subject: English (I could never score highly in my school-centered environment). During my freshman English class, I was allowed to demonstrate the Learning Targets (LT) anyway I wanted. I was able to demonstrate one of the poetry LT’s by writing a song that made it easier for me to understand what I was learning.

I had a lot more experience writing song lyrics than creating traditional poetry. Since my work had something to do with a skill I want to build in the future, I was interested in my learning. Taking it a step further, using this system of applied learning allowed me to explore many different projects that incorporated English LT’s. I actually finished freshman year with the highest possible grade in English. This new system allowed me to discover my hidden strengths in a course that used to be my enemy and something that I thought was of no interest to me at all. This general idea of applied learning allows me to connect multiple “subjects” in one project.

In my freshman science class, we were studying different waves, such as those of light and sound. For our final project, we had to do something that would demonstrate our understanding of the waves Learning Targets. With the freedom to choose, I was able to combine my interests in music, sound engineering, mathematics, and science and apply my knowledge of sound and speakers to experiment with breaking glass at a particular frequency of sound.

I tested different tone settings and described my results to express the knowledge I gained about soundwaves during the process. Being able to attempt to break glass with the knowledge that I learned from the unit showed me that I could do things with the basic knowledge of science and have it be fun. It helped me to to think critically and work to get the best results. Although I was unsuccessful at breaking the glass, my approach and ability to express my learning was rewarded with a top score for this LT.

Being able to fail and still get good scores demonstrates what they are trying to achieve at Hall-Dale. Even when we are unable to complete something successfully, we still learn about that topic and can see how we may have been able to go about making it more successful. It teaches us that failure is actually good and a key part of the learning process.

The only way we have discovered the things we have in science is because of all of the times that people have failed. For example, Einstein’s theories relied on the idea of a static universe—the universe doesn’t expand or shrink. He incorporated this into his theory of relativity, but later, static universe was proven wrong. Although pieces of this theory were correct and helped future researchers, even Einstein had his failures and had much to discover about his theories. There is always more failure than success in these sorts of scientific inquiries, but through that, humanity has accomplished so much.


It has shown me that I’m able to accomplish pretty much anything that I want.

Bryce Bragdon
Learner, Hall-Dale High

Mathematics and science are by far my favorite subject areas, and I plan on going into a field that will require a college education. When I first arrived at Hall-Dale, I had only completed coursework up through Algebra I. Continuing on this limited path, I would have graduated with only Pre-Calculus on my record. Since Hall-Dale allows for individual pacing, I was able to double up on mathematics—Algebra II and Geometry—in my first semester and move on to an advanced math class second semester to allow me to do some Pre-Calculus work and explore Physics and Engineering.

This year, I doubled up on math again, and I’m on track to finish Pre-Calc and AP Statistics by the end of this school year. As a result, I’m able to take the SAT earlier than most of my peers, which will allow me to apply for some science and math summer programs at MIT through JHU and WPI. These programs have all kinds of different fields of science in them. Although I am more into physical sciences and space sciences, I can get my hands wet with all different types of sciences through these programs. This will look great on my resume and will help me gain acceptance into my preferred science and math colleges when I get older.

For my future at Hall-Dale, I foresee being able to take an advanced college math course my senior year, something like Calc II. This will allow me to get college credit for free. Taking this class will also look good for when I apply for college. I believe that I will have up to AP Physics II completed for my science classes by the time I receive my high school diploma.

All of this will be possible because of Hall-Dale’s student-centered learning curriculum. This system has impacted me in more ways than just academics; it has allowed me to think outside of the box more often, since sometimes we have to come up with projects for ourselves to get a higher grade. It has also shown me that I am able to accomplish pretty much anything that I want as long as I try my hardest and find ways to make the work more relevant to my own interests. This system has worked well for me, and I believe will work well for most everyone else.

Sign up for Pioneering


Pioneering is the publication for all things learner-centered. This free digital magazine is a great way to stay up-to-date on this growing field, discover pioneering work, engage practitioners on the ground making it happen, and join the conversation.