Wanda Emin is happy with her children's school. Still, she was one of dozens of parents who showed up this week at an open house for the Martha's Vineyard Public Charter School.

She came, she said, at the urging of Brooke, 13, and Heather, 10.

"We just came with an open mind, and we'll go home and talk about it," Mrs. Emin said, guessing that her daughters are attracted to the school because "what they like is being able to make their own decisions."

They're not alone. Dozens of Island children and parents on Tuesday came to learn about the charter school at its headquarters, a post-and-beam West Tisbury building currently decorated with miniature daffodils, comfortable sofas and a large papier-maché shark, which hangs from the ceiling in the main hall. The school distributed applications to 75  families, far more than can be accommodated in the coming school year.

It's unlikely that all 75 applications will be completed and returned. Some parents, like Mrs. Emin, were ambivalent, and not really sure whether their children would thrive at the unconventional campus. But school officials were pleased to see so much interest, especially considering this is the school's first year.

"It's very exciting to see all these people," said Nelia Decker, vice president of the board of trustees.

The charter school opened in September with 75 students. Since then, two students have left to attend classes elsewhere. They were replaced by other students on a waiting list.

The school has also lost one of its six full-time teachers. Meredith Collins resigned this week. Taking up the slack are the five remaining teachers, five part-time mentors and 15 part-time "experts in residence."

Now, in the 1997-98 school year, school officials expect to increase enrollment from 75 to 105.

Parents with their eyes on those slots came with many questions about the school, which is known for its mixed-age classes and its lack of tests. Parents were interested in finding out how the school works, and how teachers know children are learning. What is a typical day like? many parents asked.

"I think a lot of people were concerned that there wasn't enough structure," said Alexis Iammarino, 13, of Vineyard Haven.

But there is structure, she told them. Students simply have more control over their days.

For instance, Alexis spends two afternoons a week teaching and learning ballet. She recently completed a research project on dancer Martha Graham. And she's allowed to read whatever she wants at school, even her dance magazines, and has "never read so much in my entire life."

"I'm learning a lot," she said. "I'm having a lot of fun learning, but I'm learning more than I ever learned anywhere else. It's really fun and I'm enjoying it so much."

What kind of children thrive at the charter school, some parents asked. But that's a harder question to answer.

Many visitors at the open house said their children are having problems in school, and those children certainly may thrive at the charter school, officials said. But so might children who are doing perfectly well in traditional schools.

A central philosophy at the charter school is that students should take responsibility for their own learning, said teacher Sidney Morris. All kinds of children can benefit from that.

"You see them all the sudden waking up to their own voice," he said. "They realize, 'Oh, there is a way for me to decide what I want, instead of listening to this adult or that teacher.’”

The easiest questions to answer were those about the admissions process.

Applications are due March 3. After that, school staff will meet with parents and children to tell them more about the school.

Siblings of existing students will receive preference. So will students still on the waiting list from last year. After these two groups are accommodated, there may only be a handful of spaces left. If there are more applicants than vacancies, a lottery will be conducted on April 3.

Though school officials would like to accept more students, the charter school's maximum enrollment is determined by the state. The addition of 30 students was approved by the legislature when the school received its charter, though before new students can actually be accepted, the state must approve another measure -- increasing the total cap on Massachusetts charter school students According to the school's charter, the school is supposed to expand by 30 students in 1997-98. If all goes as planned, the school will expand the age limits for the students it serves. While the student body now includes children from age 9 to 14, next year, students will range in age from 8 to 15.

So far, things are going well, said teacher Peggy Isham, and students are enjoying themselves.

"Learning can be fun," she said. "They work really hard, but they love it. I just hope we can fit in everyone who wants to come. A lot of these kids are so proud of the school. They love the school. It's like a family here."

For parent Sally Callahan, this  atmosphere is what's appealing.

Mrs. Callahan wants to find an alternative for her when daughter Kelly, 11, graduates from the Menemsha School. Mrs. Callahan has been pleased to find that the charter school is similar in some ways to the small, intimate Menemsha School environment.

"I think this is just another extension of that," she said. "She just got so much attention and support at the Menemsha School. I just think she'd get the same thing here."