The VNS learning community operates in an essentially businesslike atmosphere. Visitors are greeted by the quiet hum of 70 people at work: some at workstations, some in the music room, the science room, the shop, some talking, some helping others, some temporarily off-task. Everyone is in sight of everyone else, leading to a natural sense of responsibility for the work culture. Disruptive behavior, typical of students in traditional schools, is rare at VNS and is often eliminated through peer suggestion. No hands are raised to get a drink, go to the bathroom, or take a break and yet none of these activities are abused. Students and advisors are free to access one another for their help and expertise. The atmosphere is purposeful.
The first two hours of each day are spent with Gathering Time, Advisory, and Math (individualized, computer-generated coursework). After lunch, the entire school journals for 15 minutes and the day closes with 40 minutes of Reading and 10 minutes for individual cleaning responsibilities. The remainder of the day, 3.5-4 hours, is Project Work time, devoted to individual and group research projects. Students employ self-designed or school-provided time-management tools and are primarily responsible for the productive use of their time. The effective use of available time throughout the year insures that the students remain on-track for credit toward graduation. Two Friday afternoons per month are set aside for an all-school enrichment activity. While this schedule is the norm, special events and opportunities at the school, field trips, and bonding activities consume school time intermittently.