The classroom is both comfortable and practical. Furnished with stacks of books, a Macintosh computer and a sprawling leather sofa, it is a bright room with windows offering a view of a forest and enough light to nourish three potted plants.

Here, nestled in the giant L-shaped sofa, half a dozen students read novels and write in journals. Some talk quietly, and others work on "dialogue journals." That means they write entries directed to teacher Meredith Collins, then leave the notebooks in a basket, where Miss Collins finds them and writes responses.

This is "Voices," a course now offered at the Martha's Vineyard Public Charter School.

Questioned this week, students said this class is going well, as are their other classes at this nontraditional Island school.

"I love it," said Alyssa Mayrand of Edgartown. "I'm never going back."

The Vineyard's charter school opened in September. At the time, school officials said the day-to-day routine was hard to predict; it would be decided by students, parents and teachers working together. Now, as the school wraps up its ninth week, the school day has a distinct, if continually evolving, shape -- one that combines academics with the energy and personalities of 72 children and six teachers.

On a typical morning, some children practice French with a native speaker, while others study algebra, write stories, play the electric guitar or travel to the West Tisbury Library to do research.

Afternoon activities vary. Tuesday afternoon is for physical education, so students travel to various locations for ice skating, basketball, horseback riding and other activities. On Thursday afternoon, visiting artists teach subjects such as ceramics, drawing and cartooning. And every afternoon at lunchtime, students in an investments class sell snacks and beverages at a "school store" which makes daily profits of $10.

Every day, students have the freedom to use just about any part of the school campus they want. That means they may study outside. Or they may enter the office area -- without getting permission first -- to use the phone or photocopier. Through it all, they abide by four rules, including one that says: "Every person has the right to be safe in mind, body and spirit."

Things are going well, said Seth Mosler, president of the board of trustees.

"It's a lot more settled in and organized than it was the first few weeks," he said. "People know where they're supposed to go. The teachers have done a wonderful job of getting everything organized."

Organization is indeed a valuable quality. Still, students offer other ideas about why the charter school works for them.

Many enjoy the freedom.

"You get to learn what you want, and you get to learn the way you want," said Ryan Shea, who is learning architectural drawing and researching hemophilia -- a disease that interests him because he knows people who have suffered from it.

For student Matthew Kisly, the freedom engenders a feeling of community.

For instance, in a class called "Keeping it together," students focus on a variety of topics which, as the name implies, keep people together. Matthew chose to draw blueprints for a house, and he spends a great deal of time with another student, who is also designing a house.

"We work together and share our ideas," Matthew said, even though "he was really into old-fashioned houses, and I was really into modern houses.

"They let us do things that interest us. Certain people have certain interests. It helps them get together. That can help them form communities."

The community approach even extends to school policies and procedures.

Every Wednesday afternoon, students and teachers gather in a town-meeting style assembly, where they discuss the school schedule, discipline and more.

A particularly controversial issue was that of the hot water dispenser. This dispenser became an issue after school staff became worried that younger children could accidentally burn themselves with the water. They posted an "adults only" sign -- but this act sparked indignation among students. Eventually, it was decided that anyone in the school may use the hot water dispenser, a decision which came after "long and impassioned" debate, recalls teacher Jean Lythcott. The incident was followed by a season of widespread tea drinking among students.

Another school meeting focused on rules for the building. These four rules, now posted in the main hall, were drafted through consensus. They are probably similar to rules in other schools, but the process was important, officials said.

"It's basic stuff," said Charlotte Costa, a member of the board of trustees and a parent. "But if the kids reinvent it, they own it."

The current term at the charter school ends Jan. 1. What comes after that? It hasn't been decided. The present schedule may continue or a new one may be created. This is one of the issues teachers will address in their planning sessions, which occupy three and a half hours every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon. These sessions are especially important because there is no principal to issue decrees; all educational decisions are made by teachers in accordance with policies set by the nine-member board of trustees.

In these meetings, teachers assess students' progress and consider long-term plans. Like the school itself, it's a job that's evolving.

"It's new every day," said Miss Collins. "We get to see the kids in different ways, different lights, different contexts every day."