Building Learning that Endures

The New Community for Grades 2 – 5 Reveals an Integrated Instructional Vision

With the opening this fall of the first set of classroom studios in the new community for grades 2 – 5, the exciting future for Punahou’s elementary students and faculty is coming into focus.The Sidney and Minnie Kosasa Neighborhood was made possible by a generous $10 million lead gift from members of the Kosasa family, and is the first phase of what will become the heart of the entire Junior School.

Perhaps at no point in Punahou’s history has there been such a comprehensive approach to reimagining learning environments. Initiated by President Jim Scott ’70 and former Junior School Principal Mike Walker, the construction of Case Middle School (2004) and the Omidyar K – 1 Neighborhood (2010) boldly demonstrated how educational program could shape building design.The new community for grades 2 – 5, envisioned by Walker and now under the guidance of Junior School Principal Paris Priore-Kim ’76, is the final step in creating an integrated educational experience for children from kindergarten through grade 8 and beyond.

“If I have a child who’s in first grade, another one in fourth grade and another in eighth grade, I need to see that there is a coherence around their experiences,” explains Priore-Kim. “I need to know that they’re learning essential skills along a continuum that allows them to apply, analyze and inquire at the appropriate times in their academic and personal development.”

Priore-Kim says that the new community is an elegant expression of an emerging instructional philosophy that scaffolds experiential, inquiry-based and product-oriented learning along an age-appropriate continuum so that children see their education as relevant to life and the world beyond school: “It’s when you apply skills in a context that is real and relevant that learning becomes embedded and enduring.”

The spectrum of indoor and outdoor settings, coupled with a variety of technology, media and fabrication spaces, will offer a broader range of experiences than ever before – from the social-emotional learning fostered when children of different age groups mix and mentor each other; to the interdisciplinary, applied learning that takes place when interacting with the natural world; to the problem-solving required to create a functional three-dimensional product for an authentic audience.

The two-story buildings or “houses” opening this year contain four classroom studios, two on each floor. This arrangement builds on the partnership model in the Omidyar K – 1 Neighborhood, in which children and teachers of different grades share common spaces and instructional resources. The mauka slope behind these facilities is anchored by the Barwick banyan tree on one end and a native Hawaiian forest environment on the other, reinforcing the essential role of outdoor learning.

Work has begun on the second phase of the project, with three more houses and the K – 8 Learning Commons, which includes a visual and performing arts facility. The Learning Commons will draw the rest of the Junior School into the comminity and it will link the Junior School and the Academy in what Priore-Kim calls “a playground for K – 12 curricular alignment,” because the continuum of learning coherence logically extends all the way through a child’s graduation.