Thursday, March 13, 2014

Pono: A democratic learning community. Manhattan, NY

Here's one from the nest egg... More about a handful of interesting public schools in Toronto & Ottawa are pending review!

The name “Pono” is a Hawaiian world, meaning “net” or “web” and connoting the connectedness and interrelatedness of all things. Pono’s mission, of nurturing “a journey to becoming balanced human beings,” strives first and foremost to bring awareness of this interconnectedness. It is to support children in seeing themselves as part of the big web, where any strand that they move pulls on other connected strands and effects ripple outwards. I volunteered twice weekly for the fall term.

On the last day of vacation before the fall term began, I spent the day cleaning and organizing the physical space with the other teachers. A community member came to collect a pile of wood salvaged from a down tree, promising to return with wooden benches and stools. One mother stopped by to replenish the stock of her handmade botanical lotions, with proceeds benefitting Pono.

Maysaa, the visionary founder of the school, sat down with us interns to review the policies and framework of the community, including her belief in no punishment, ever. Her wide-eyed 5-year-old daughter walked into the middle of our circle and asked, “What’s a punishment?”

Exactly. I love the idea that this child has lived through 5 years without learning what a punishment is. And it’s not that she has a small vocabulary or awareness of the world. Earlier in the day, she showed me the terrarium with the remains of a millipede and remarked, thoughtfully: “I’ve noticed that smaller animals have smaller lifespans.”

Literal empowerment—an understanding of one’s powerful effect on the world—is embedded in all aspects of the school. The staff models it constantly, and all adults engage in weekly reflections to self-monitor whether actions were in line with the principles. If anything comes up during the day that is out of line with the principles, such as an unkindness, everything stops and there is a council meeting, which doesn’t end until the community reaches consensus on a solution. According to Maysaa, most of the time the “offender” didn’t mean to hurt another child. Openly talking when there is a conflict allows the chance to clarify misperceptions and miscommunications.

Maysaa and I were able to talk extensively about the foundational thoughts behind the creation of Pono, many of which resonate with me deeply. I am so grateful for my time immersing myself in this learning community! Thank you, Pono!

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