A Diverse Learning Community

A student body that is economically, ethnically and culturally diverse enables children to question their own assumptions, gain new perspectives, and develop a creative, critical and compassionate understanding of the world around them. We believe any child who has the talent and promise to thrive in our learning environments should be able to do so, regardless of their families’ financial circumstances.

“Research has shown that diverse communities help all learners. They help us build an increased understanding deep in empathy. When we understand the stories of other people, we are able to build stronger relationships, we are able to work across difference, and we really see this as a critical element of our learning community.”

Academy Principal Emily McCarren

Need-based financial aid continues to be a high priority as we seek to attract students of high promise, without family finances being a filter for admission. Our average individual financial aid award is over $10,000, making it possible for students of modest means and diverse backgrounds to experience a Punahou education. Increasing our designated endowment for financial aid is the best way to secure long-term support for deserving students.

Support beyond tuition. A student’s participation in the life of the School should not be limited by their families’ finances. Beyond tuition, Punahou provides financial assistance to students to take part in various programs and activities, including class trips, School performances and Summer School. This financial support allows all students to participate in valuable experiences that enrich their education.

Bella Nesti ’ 20

Bella Nesti ’20

When it was time for the Nesti family to select a school for their oldest daughter, they were determined to find a way to afford Punahou, the school they loved most. Thanks to Punahou’s robust financial aid program, they were able to make it work for both Bella ’20 and her sister, Hanalei ’25, to start their journeys in kindergarten. “Without the support of donors who believe in providing this amazing educational opportunity, my sister and I could not have gone to Punahou,” Bella says. “I’m grateful not only for the financial aid but also the incredible people, teachers and community I’ve found here, and all the opportunities I’ve been able to experience.”

An unexpected invitation to attend the Student Diversity Leadership Conference on the mainland during her sophomore year further drove home the impact just one opportunity can make. “I found my passion through this conference, which focused on diversity and equity,” she said. Bella has attended every year since, and now she and other Punahou students hold a Hawai‘i conference for students from across the state. “I formed so many bonds with the people at the national conference, and we have been able to replicate that kind of community here,” Bella says. “I’m so proud that we did.”

Though Bella’s experience at Punahou is nearing its end, she’s confident in the foundation for success that Punahou has provided to both her and Hanalei, now in seventh grade. “While growing up, if our financial situation got more stressful, Punahou was always something solid – a tether – because of financial aid,” Bella says. “It was hope for the future.”

Xuan Nguyen ’19

Xuan Nguyen ’19

When I got my acceptance letter to Punahou for sixth grade, I was thrilled. I had toured the campus and seen the neat features – sleek buildings, colorful chairs and a lily pond. After the initial excitement wore down, the reality of attending a private school set in. How was my family going to pay for it? When I was in public school, I qualified for free lunch, and it was difficult to imagine how my Punahou education would be subsidized. Was it even justified for me to go?

My parents, however, decided to trust the process. We applied for financial aid, and received it that initial year, as well as the next six years. I graduated from Punahou last summer and am now in college studying nursing. I am incredibly grateful for the opportunities and people I’ve met at Punahou for helping me learn and grow. I know all of the experiences I’ve been so lucky to have were made possible because of the generous donors to Punahou’s financial aid program, who believe in me and the future of all the other recipients.

I was recently asked to speak at a School event honoring these donors, so I got to meet many of these people and thank them in person. I was initially nervous about speaking to this group. I’ve spoken before in front of large crowds, but I felt that whatever I said should represent not just my experiences, but those of other financial aid recipients. While looking at their faces, I felt the gravity of the situation, but I also felt great appreciation for them. I realized that they were rooting for me, so there was nothing to be nervous about.

Changing Lives Challenge

In 2013, Punahou received a $10 million gift from anonymous donors to dramatically increase the School’s ability to offer financial aid to deserving students. It was one of the most significant philanthropic contributions in Punahou’s history, and the largest gift ever made outside a capital building campaign. From that gift, the Changing Lives Challenge was launched, and $8 million of the $10 million gift was designated to match gifts to permanent, endowed financial aid. The result was that each gift or pledge of $25,000 or more to a new or existing endowed financial aid fund was matched, dollar for dollar, increasing Punahou’s endowed financial aid by over $16 million.

In January 2018, the challenge was successfully completed thanks to the generosity of 152 families. The entire $8 million gift was matched, resulting in $16 million to support financial aid.