Mission, Beliefs, and Values


Pono offers school-age children an independent, democratic, and outdoor educational program where each child’s interests and innate desire to learn are cherished and nurtured as the children are immersed in a harmonious learning community and authentic world learning environment, and guided to becoming life-long thinkers and balanced human beings.



Pono is rooted in the belief that:

Children are learning creatures who are naturally curious and inquisitive, and who strive for understanding and competence. We support their basic human drive to learn and grow by providing the opportunity to direct and regulate their learning in the manner that they choose, at their own place and pace, and for as long as they want and need. The structure at Pono—whether it is voluntary classes; mixed age groupings; the absence of a pre-set curriculum, homework, tests, and grades—contributes to a fulfilling and enjoyable learning experience;

Children, no matter how young, learn responsibility by being given responsibility. Children at Pono have the responsibility and freedom to govern not only their learning, but also their own Pono community. Each child and teacher has an equal voice in decisions that affect the daily operation of the educational program;

A healthy environment is one in which Pono exists. Pono, a traditional Hawaiian concept denoting perfect harmony and equilibrium, inspires everything we do. We strive to create a learning environment of perfect harmony with our children, families, teachers, and other members of the Pono community. We make every effort to have our lessons, meals, programs and projects achieve a state of Pono among our community, bigger society, and nature; 

Learning happens everywhere, and it happens best when children are immersed in authentic environments and situations, rather than through rote or forced instruction in rigid artificial settings. We take full advantage of the riches and resources available in New York City and the surrounding states. We hold many sessions in parks and farms, museums, factories, workshops, theaters, art studios and so on. We create partnerships with different educational and cultural organizations to provide and facilitate access to different events and resources. At least twice a week we invite visiting teachers who are professionals and educators specialized in fields that correspond to the children's interests to work with them. While the learning environment we create is natural, generally unwired, open-ended, dynamic, and flexible, it always adapts and adjusts to the interests of the students (Pono classrooms are generally unwired: Our youngest children have no screen time at Pono; older students use technology when appropriate for a lesson or a project, for example, during coding classes or when doing research).

Children and adults learn together and from each other, despite presumed or identified abilities, disabilities, challenges, and labels. All members of the Pono community work together on creating a fully inclusive learning environment that is free of attitudinal, structural and physical barriers that would hinder the full participation of its members in the community;

The role of teachers is to nurture, guide, and support the interests and natural progress of the children. More importantly, they teach by example how to be socially conscious; how to pursue learning journeys; and how to live harmoniously in a community where one’s freedom ends when it interferes with the freedom of others. Our low child to teacher ratio and small-size groups ensure that each child gets the individual guidance and support she needs.



At Pono, personal development and participation in a community of kindness, respect, and inclusion are essential. In our daily operation, we value freedom not license, collaboration not competition, resolving conflict through council meetings not punishment.