This is What Happens When Learning in an Atmosphere of Self-Discovery

Learner Voices   13 April 2017
By Eva Neuenschwander


I discovered memorizing information and writing for the grade had nothing to do with the learning.

Eva Neuenschwander

IN MY FIRST YEAR OF HIGH SCHOOL, I’ve had time to reflect on my education journey up to this point. From kindergarten to seventh grade, I was taught to sit still at a desk, do my work, and keep quiet even if I had questions or needed help. This was the norm at the “high-performance” magnet schools I used to attend. It was assumed everyone was at the same level, which led me to believe this was how the world worked—everyone should have the same knowledge and skills at all times.

With this mindset ingrained in me, I was great at school. I did well memorizing barely enough information from the textbook to pass the test. I learned what the teachers wanted me to write rather than expressing my own thoughts. And, I knew how to make good grades. But, I eventually discovered memorizing information and writing for the grade had nothing to do with the learning.

Rote Memorization Was Not the Winning Formula

As I moved along my seventh grade year, I started wondering why school was like this. I had never really questioned it before. In my mind, this was just how school was. But, when the work (and teachers) started getting tougher, I didn’t understand why this “learning” was being pushed on me like a dreaded chore. Why not include what I liked to do or what I was interested in?

During the end of the year, I started having trouble understanding the concepts in my math class. My memorization strategies weren’t working anymore. However, the teacher just continued moving forward with the lesson plan without helping the students struggling to keep up. I ended up passing the class with a B average, thanks to the help of a much needed math tutor. But, there was one question that was running rampant in my mind: Why was this the only option of schooling? I was so confused.

Transforming Through Transfer

Adding to my confusion after my seventh grade year, I found myself transferring into the Pike Road School system. A new school had been built, and everyone was rezoned. Like anything first starting out, Pike Road School has had its ups and downs. This made transferring here a struggle for me.


As we enter the workforce, my generation will depend on collaborating with many individuals to complete important work, thus making “teamwork” very important to learn while still young.

Eva Neuenschwander

I had built many friendships during my time at my magnet schools, and now it felt like I was having to start all over. I knew I would need to build new relationships with completely different people, which has never been my strong suit. I also struggled making the change from a strict, extremely traditional setting to a more flexible and collaborative one. However, I eventually made new friends, found where I belonged, and adjusted to what originally seemed like a hectic environment. I began to understand the “Pike Road Way.”

It’s All About the Atmosphere

The biggest difference at PRS compared to my old schools is the atmosphere. At PRS, we focus on collaborative learning, which honestly scared me when I first arrived. I’m a very self-sufficient, independent person, so I was startled when I had to work with others in this new, dynamic way. Instead of sitting at a desk and doing my work silently, I was working with others on projects to complete standards.

These projects differ from traditional school projects; they are more immersive. The entire lesson is made into a project, making the student work harder and strive to complete more. This way of “school” was completely out of the ordinary for me.

Because this is a public school, there are learners with different skill levels and talents, resulting in a more diverse environment. Although I’m still working on my teamwork skills and will continue refining them in the future, they are far greater today than I ever imagined they would be. Teamwork is a valuable skill in the world we live and work in. As we enter the workforce, my generation will depend on collaborating with many individuals to complete important work, thus making that skill very important to learn while still young.

What Does this Look Like in Practice?

Earlier this year, my collaboration and many other skills were put to the test. The Community Nine learners were split into groups based on our interests, and we dove into researching various topics connected to our Renaissance Faire project. My group chose to research and demonstrate our knowledge of Renaissance fashion, since we all have a common interest in that area.

We worked very hard to assemble our booth and have all of our information ready to display at our town-wide presentation, which usually occurs once a year. We created and modeled custom, time-period dresses and paired them with a customly designed magazine. As a group, we were proud of the end result and couldn’t wait to show our beautiful product to the community.

Through this experience, I discovered I can work well in groups if I just open myself up to their ideas. Another example of this was a project in which we worked on presenting a world faire. We had to choose a country and learn all about it, then present it to the community. My group chose Denmark—one of my partner’s ancestors were from there. There were many ideas that my team members came up with that I may not have originally thought of myself but were wonderful ideas. Even though I wouldn’t have chosen Denmark to be our group focus originally, I’m glad it was so that I was able to discover this perspective.

Building Community through Collaboration

The Renaissance Faire was one of many “first times” at Pike Road School and leads to another great thing I’ve discovered. Every school I’ve previously attended has been well established with traditions, school clubs, school sports, etc. already set in stone. What I like about PRS is that learners are given opportunities to change things and make it even better for future learners.


I have ownership in my school and feel like we are changing things for the better.

Eva Neuenschwander

Last year, I joined a group called the Trailblazers, a student-run planning committee working with our Principal, Mrs. Angela Lang. It is composed of a group of around twenty learners, each with an important role to play.

On this committee, I have ownership in my school and feel like we are changing things for the better. Currently, we are designing our new high school, Pike Road High School, in both the aesthetics and how it will be run and managed. We are creating a space for students to have a sense of safety and togetherness.

My group, for example, is in charge of creating the spaces for the elective classrooms. Each person in the group works hard to design an individual space according to the elective they chose. This committee is just one example of the overall feeling I have toward our Lead Learners (“teachers” in the more traditional sense) at PRS. Overall, I feel like our Lead Learners actually care about their learners and not just their test scores. They want to see us flourish and will help us with whatever we need to guarantee our individual and collective success.

Discovering Who I’ll Become

PRS is making me realize and grow into the person I want to be more and more every day. I’ve discovered a self confidence and leadership that I wouldn’t have otherwise known, while also developing a sense of community within the school environment. These qualities are very important to me.

Outside of the classroom, I won’t just wait around for someone to teach me how to do every job I need to perform and then memorize it. I will have to learn to work with people collaboratively that are very different than me and come up with fresh ideas on a daily basis. Pike Road School has helped me realize this need and continues shaping me to be successful in the real world. Even though I’m still coming out of the shell that was created in my previous schools, I’m excited to see what’s to come during the rest of my time at PRS. I can’t wait to discover who I will become!

New resources and news on The Big Idea!


We recently announced a new R&D acceleration initiative to connect and support local communities ready to bring public, equitable, learner-centered ecosystems to life.