At Nea, middle and high school learners are not scheduled into seminar classes every period of the day. For a few periods each week they have self-directed learning time spent in a large, multi-age space called "the Tree". For those needing a smaller, quieter study space, there is an adjacent room known as the "Tree Branch". The Tree has a full time supervisor who takes attendance and ensures that Tree rules are followed. Many Nea classroom facilitators also have Tree periods when they are available in the Tree or Tree Branch to support learners academically and get to know them outside the classroom environment.
Tree periods build time into each learner's schedule when they can take their academics seriously, go deeper on topics of interest, and ask for support from peers and facilitators. After attendance is taken, learners spend 30 minutes reviewing class assignments, completing homework, or deepening their understanding of the topics they are engaging with in seminars.
After 30 minutes of focused academic time, each learner can decide how to spend the rest of their Tree period. They may choose to continue working on homework, join classmates on a group project, or take time to socialize. Having these choices gives learners the opportunity to practice important skills, such as:
- managing their time effectively,
- establishing and maintaining work priorities,
- operating independently and collaboratively, and
- being part of the larger school community.
Some learners also use their Tree periods to serve in the Boa Me program (where older learners act as teaching assistants in the elementary grades) or to take part in a Nea Academy.