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Learning begins with the child at The Forest School

Featured Article

Heroes of The Forest

The Forest School at Trilith helps learners flourish in a unique educational environment.

Just as trees in a forest need different conditions to grow and thrive, the same is true of children. Recognizing that, The Forest School at Trilith offers an educational environment that allows children to flourish.

Long-time middle school teacher Dr. Caleb Collier had a growing sense over the years that his job was becoming more about managing behaviors instead of teaching.  “Not much responsibility was being given to the learners themselves,” he said.  As he researched alternative forms of education, Collier learned about the work of Dr. Tyler Thigpen, founder of the Institute for Self-Directed Learning. The two educators co-founded The Forest School in 2018.

Resembling the one-room schoolhouse of yesteryear, The Forest School builds on pillars: Children learning who they are—their passions, interests, and purpose; learning to teach themselves; learning to build and produce; and learning to live together.

But you won’t find students or teachers, or classrooms here. Learners are heroes who work in studios and their leaders are guides who help them apply what they learn through participation in projects and by solving real-world problems. Projects have included designing a golf-cart path system for Fayetteville and a roller coaster for Fun Spot America Amusement Park.  This allows heroes to utilize all the basics they’ve learned—reading, math, and science—and eliminates the dreaded question, “Why do I have to learn this?”

Collier said The Forest School works up from the individual learner’s interests and passions, instead of starting with the curriculum and drilling it into the learner. Learning is self-paced and self-directed. Many heroes also participate in apprenticeships.

“Most kids are spending eight hours a day sitting at a desk following rules they didn't make, and listening to grown-ups answer questions they didn't ask,” Collier said. “At no point in that process is the kid the starting point. They don't have much power over their own learning. It's all coming from the top down. Either they stick with the program and make it through, or they don't.”

Brooke Cook, who is joining the faculty as the wellness guide and is involved with school fundraising, believes The Forest School has been a good fit for her sons who are 4 and 6.  

“A lot of boys tend to feel left behind,” she said. “It was important to find a space that allowed them to be physical the way they needed to for their age while also honing in on the different gifts that each child has. They're creating fully-realized human beings that are sensitive and emotionally intelligent and self-aware rather than just being in a building where they go and learn a specified list of academics.”

With an enrollment of about 150 and an additional 40 heroes worldwide who attend online, The Forest School has no attendance policy if work and responsibilities are covered. Family trips are encouraged.

A sense of belonging and getting to know who’s in the studio is emphasized and parents share their family stories—backgrounds, heritage, and celebrations. “We've lost the art of learning how to live together, so we encourage the diversity of voices and diversity of opinions,” Collier said.

Heroes don’t receive grades at The Forest School. Mastery of skills earns them badges and they must prove what they have learned through practicals. Both include self and peer assessment. Although many Forest School graduates have received college acceptance and scholarships, that’s not the sole focus since others enter the workforce or trades, start a business, or join the military. “The days of being able to major in something, step into, and be in a career your whole life, are over," Collier said. “You have to adapt.”

For more information about The Forest School, visit

  • Heroes aren't segregated by age at The Forest School.
  • Heroes at The Forest School are given opportunities to move and discover.
  • Many heroes at The Forest School participate in apprenticeships.
  • The Forest School has a basketball team and a volley ball team is planned.
  • Learning begins with the child at The Forest School
  • Learning at The Forest School is self paced and self directed.
  • Belonging is an important part of learning at The Forest School.
  • Many of the heroes at The Forest School receive sholarships.
  • The Forest School helps each hero discover his or her interests and passions.
  • Heroes at The Forest School learn by participating in projects and solving real-world problems.
  • Children are encouraged to get comfortable as they learn.
  • Heroes at The Forest School earn badges when they master skills.
  • Heroes at the Forest School are given responsibility for their learning.