A Wonderland of Learning
Peek Into Our Newest Neighborhood
The eager faces of children streaming into the winding woodchip trails of their new home each morning make the Sidney and Minnie Kosasa Neighborhood feel more like a wonderland than school. While bracketed by the normal rites and routines of school – snack-time, lunch and recess – the moments within these contours sparkle with childhood curiosity and joy. They are a wonder to witness.
We're All Different
In Mike Taylor's '90 third-grade class, children are beginning their collective inquiry into islands – part of the focus on Hawaiian Studies that will shape their year. Taylor gathers the group for a few minutes to lay out their task: "For the next 15 minutes, you're going to find out as much as you can about islands, and then we'll come back and share what we learned. You can work in pairs, groups or individually. And if someone wants to join your group, what's the pono thing to do?"
A forest of hands shoot up and one girl says, "Welcome them!"
"That's right. Why?"
"Because we take care of each other," says one of her classmates.
"Very good." Taylor looks around at the group for a moment. "Hiki?"
"Hiki no!" the group responds in unison.
The 25 students scatter, filling the nooks and crannies of Taylor's classroom "studio" and lanai. Many grab iPads, though some prefer to work with pencil and paper. Two pairs move into a niche behind a curving bookshelf; one girl climbs onto a rubber exercise ball, bouncing gently while she immerses herself in her iPad. Two groups at neighboring tables decide to merge and assign specific responsibilities to each other in their research. Taylor and his co-teacher, Jerusha Hagen '90 Tabori, move around the room answering questions and assisting the students' inquiry.
Treysen Taoka '26 uses an iPad to produce a short video about his first week of school as a third-grader in the Kosasa Neighborhood.
The scene is lively, asymmetrical and charged with the energy of children on a mission – each one guided by his or her own working style and preferred tools. It is nothing like the regimented and linear layout that most people imagine in a classroom but corresponds with the philosophy of personalized, inquiry-based learning that helped inform the studio design.
Grades 2 – 5 Supervisor John Nagel '90 explains: "The pedagogy that went into designing the spaces was based on this notion that kids learn at different rates and they have different interests, different passions. So what we tried to do is say OK, everyone has different needs, no one learns in exactly the same way so how do we provide a space that accommodates all the different needs of all the different learners?"
"We're understanding more and more about the learning process and how to reach out to individual students," adds fellow grades 2 – 5 Supervisor Julie Crane-Cory. "When we developed our guiding principles for 2 – 5, we talked about personalized instruction and that every student's journey looks different. Just like our faces, our bodies, we're all different. You cannot teach in a cookie-cutter way to reach cookie-cutter children, because children each have their own individual personalities, their learning profile and that's what we're trying to tap into."
On the Move
Several doors away, Taylor's colleague Luana Meyer '81 Yee is calling her third-graders into a sunny alcove overlooking their lanai for some storytelling. As the children arrange themselves comfortably on the floor around her, they notice that a table is cramping their space. With hardly a prompt from Yee, three students jump up to unlatch the locks on each leg and roll the table away on its wheels. This ease of movement is precisely what the furniture and the space were designed for. Tables, chairs, bookshelves, storage bins, digital touch-screen monitors – all are portable and easily reconfigured so that students can help shape their learning environments to best suit the activity at hand.
"The idea that things are personalized means that every aspect of the building needs to be flexible enough to accommodate anything that comes up in a child's mind," says Nagel. "The classroom studios have moveable walls and the furniture is flexible so that the teachers can configure the space in lots of different ways to support all kinds of learners."
After story time, there is a five-minute transition before lunch. Yee turns on a stereo and a dance party erupts. Teacher and students bounce and twirl, releasing kinetic energy and laughter, flooding their brains with serotonin and shaking the static out of their limbs. When the music is turned off a few minutes later, they line up easily, calm and ready to head across campus for lunch.
When describing the new Neighborhood, Junior School Principal Paris Priore-Kim '76 observes that it differs from a lot of traditional ideas about educational spaces, but this stems from a new approach to learning in which passion, interest and enjoyment are valued over the control and standardization that characterized school for most of the past century. "The classroom is no longer a quiet, static place. It's noisier than it used to be. There are different activities going on in different corners of that classroom at times and communal activities going on at times. I don't see the teachers standing in front with the students all facing one way. I see much more face-to-face contact, with teachers moving around the room."
In addition to moveable walls and furniture, each pair of teachers whose classroom studios adjoin also share a third assistant teacher to increase the number of activities, configurations and spaces available. "Having more than one teacher at a time in the room really helps us get to know the children," says second-grade teacher Caryn Nakamura '90 Matsuoka. "Having that time with smaller groups and seeing where the children are at, gives us more time to meet the individual needs of the kids."
Matsuoka shares a moveable wall, often left open, with her fellow teacher and former Winne Units neighbor, Natalie Hayashi. "It's interesting that there is no defined space in the studio," says Hayashi. "What would be the technology space this morning might actually turn into the writing space tomorrow, and I think that's what's exciting for me – as opposed to the traditional classroom, where you had: This is where we read, this is where we do art. The joy is in letting the children decide what space works for them, and that's what the flexible furniture allows. They get to take ownership of their own learning, which includes taking ownership of the space."
Stewards of this Land
Outdoor education teacher Andy Nelson is gathering a group of second-graders beneath the shady canopy of a monkeypod tree on Barwick Playground. This is his first "Guardian Training" of the semester. The children count off into small groups and are given a colorful hand-drawn map of the outdoor spaces, with specific features marked by gold stars.
"This is kind of like a treasure hunt, you see? So when I say go, you're going to locate star number one on your maps and learn as much as you can about whatever you find there before coming back to tell me about it. Everybody ready?" The children get set. At Nelson's "Go!" groups of 6- and 7-year-olds race across the grass to locate their "treasure" and read the interpretive signs at each station before racing back to breathlessly tell their kumu about what they found.
"They're gonna build a treehouse in that tree over there!"
"Those rock walls have sand inside them that cleans the rainwater that runs off the road!"
"Those bushes are going to grow into a maze!"
After they have discovered and discussed the features of their new playground, Nelson holds up his fist and says "grape formation." The children immediately bunch together like a cluster of grapes.
"OK, raise your hand if you know whose job it is to take care of this place."
There are some tentative murmurs and Nelson rephrases his question.
"Raise your hand if you think it's your job to take care of this place."
The entire group waves its hands in the air.
"That's right. It's our job to be stewards of this land; we're all going to be the guardians of our new home. You think you can do that?"
A chorus of affirmations is heard and Nelson encourages the students to share what they've learned with their friends during recess.
"This is not landscaping," says Priore-Kim of the outdoor environment, which was carefully designed to take full advantage of the many ways in which students learn from nature. "These are areas where children are going to be investigating, exploring, it's hands-on learning. The Neighborhood itself encourages sustainable behavior and it teaches children about Hawaiian culture and environmental stewardship." A defining characteristic of the Neighborhood is that outdoor spaces are just as essential as indoor ones for teaching and learning.
The Outdoor Classroom
In the intermediate zone between Barwick Playground and the two-story studio buildings or "houses," a bioswale makes its way down from higher ground through a bed of stones and native plants like kalo, ti and palapalai. Students in Haunani Dalton '70 Abdul's third-grade class are concentrating on the task at hand: scraping the outer bark of recently harvested wauke plants, the first step in a long and intricate process of creating the traditional kapa cloth of ancient Hawai'i.
"This is how the pua kahiko (people of old Hawai'i) made their cloth back then," Abdul explains to them. "All things came from nature and took patience, persistence and time."
The students are perched on boulders, nestled in nooks of the bioswale or on the soft green grass as they painstakingly scrape strips of bark off with 'opihi shells. A few are clustered beneath a walkway that connects the studios to the playground.
The students will eventually soak, pound and decorate their kapa, which will become one of the many products of their Hawaiian Studies curriculum. Several trees in the Neighborhood, including kukui, also produce natural dyes that were traditionally used in kapa making.
Pierce Davis '26, Kainoa Thorne '26, Jayden Leung '26 and Vijay Trivedi '26 explore their new outdoor environment.
"One of the special points of the Winne Units was their connection to Hawaiian Studies in third grade, and outside as much as inside is a direct driver of that curriculum," says Nagel. "The architects really tried to make sure that there was direct connection between indoors and outdoors and the whole outdoor space is a classroom in and of itself."
The bioswale that runs through the Neighborhood not only absorbs and cleans storm water runoff – a major factor in water pollution around O'ahu – but it also illustrates the interconnected systems of a Hawaiian watershed, or ahupua'a.
"The Aims of a Punahou Education call us to integrate Hawaiian culture and values," says Priore-Kim. "The outdoor spaces in the 2 – 5 community provide opportunities to cultivate stewardship, to be responsible for living things, to be careful about our resources, to understand the preciousness of water and the interdependence between human beings and nature."
Before and after school and during recess, the playground is alive with running, laughing, climbing, exploring children. In the same way that the indoor environments are designed to facilitate as many types of learning experiences as possible, the diverse outdoor environments run the gamut from open, grassy lawns for running freely, to quiet corners for reflection, to the adventure of exploring what will eventually grow into a native forest environment or the adrenaline of kinetic play structures like the "Galaxy Swing" or "Explorer Dome."
More to Come
Most exciting of all is the fact that the Kosasa Neighborhood is only the first phase of what will eventually be the grades 2 – 5 community. The School is actively fundraising for the remaining three studio buildings and a Junior School Learning Commons that will work in tandem with an Academy Learning Commons to provide a unified 21st-century learning experience for students and faculty.
"In the Learning Commons, students will see the power they have as problem-solvers and the products they can produce in response to large questions about energy, the environment and social action," says Priore-Kim. "It is where what students do in their classrooms will be made visible to everyone else."
Artistic rendering of the Junior School Learning Commons, which will be adjacent to the beloved Banyan Tree at the edge of Barwick Playground.
As a gathering place for students of all ages and grades, the Learning Commons will also encourage the social-emotional learning that stems from becoming deeply aware of our relationships with one another and the larger community at Punahou and beyond.
While helping children to develop the essential skills needed to succeed in the 21st century, the Learning Commons will also support faculty in advancing their own teaching practice, directly benefiting students and positioning Punahou as an innovation center and partner for other schools.
The 2 – 5 community's emphasis on outdoor learning environments also finds its expression in a reinterpretation of Ka Punahou, the New Spring.
As President Jim Scott '70 explains: "Our students this morning didn't just come to school, they came to a place. It's the New Spring that gives them roots so they can have a productive future. Ka Punahou is part of an ahupua'a that goes from the top of Manoa Valley out to Waikiki, and it's that interdependence of the ahupua'a concept that's a reminder of our interdependence with one another. The New Spring that continually replenishes itself is a metaphor not just for life but the life of this school – a school that's constantly changing, growing, developing, never standing still."
The 2 – 5 community is a physical representation of Punahou's educational philosophy for the 21st century. It incorporates the latest research about the neuroscience of learning into an instructional vision based on personalization and flexibility, in service of learning that is relevant and enduring.
» Instruction is designed to harness children's innate curiosity, ignite their passions, develop their social-emotional intelligence and build their capacity to address authentic, real-world questions and challenges. This moves away from the one-size-fits-all approach that has dominated education for the past century and allows teachers to design a curriculum around the individual learning profile of each student.
» Rather than focusing primarily on transmission of content, this approach encourages children to develop the skills necessary to be successful in today's world, such as inquiry, creativity, communication, collaboration, innovation, critical thinking, problem-solving, empathy and resilience.
» All of this is made possible by the flexi-bility of instructional tools and spaces in the new facilities. This includes moveable walls and a variety of indoor and outdoor spaces that enable instruction for different group sizes. Moveable furniture and the ability for multiple teachers to share spaces collaboratively also increases their instructional tool kit exponentially.
Built by Philanthropy
The Sidney and Minnie Kosasa Neighborhood was named in honor of the parents of its lead donors, Dr. Thomas '63 and Mi Kosasa, and his siblings, Paul Kosasa, Susan Kosasa and Gloria Kosasa '68 Gainsley. "We are incredibly fortunate to have been able to fund this project entirely through philanthropy, without drawing on tuition dollars or incurring long-term debt," says President Jim Scott '70.
The Kosasa Neighborhood completes the first phase of a renewed learning environment for the entire grades 2 – 5 community, with the second phase scheduled to wrap up in 2019. It will include three more studio buildings and a Junior School Learning Commons that will serve as the creative hub of the entire Junior School, where students and faculty can extend their learning in a variety of design, technology and maker spaces, as well as music and art facilities.
The 2 – 5 project will finalize a 20-year process of redesigning the entire Junior School to reflect the instructional goals of Punahou's faculty for the 21st century. It is also one of the priorities of the Ku'u Punahou campaign, launched this past February to reimagine the future of education and position the School for its bicentennial.
More information, including how you can support the 2 – 5 project, can be found at campaign.punahou.edu/place.
Kosasa Neighborhood Interior - 360° View
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Kosasa Neighborhood Exterior - 360° View
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