Pono's educational program was founded in 2010 by a parent, educator, and education researcher in response to the need for an alternative school option that protects children's innate curiosity, genius, wonderment, and drive to explore and grow, by trusting them to initiate and direct their own learning.
Pono is a pioneer in offering an educational program that is both outdoor and democratic: a program where the children spend at least half of their time out of the classroom in and around New York City.
Students design the curriculum through a process that respects and reflects their varied individual learning interests, and they govern their learning community through a democratic process.
They pursue topics and long-term projects in fields as diverse as natural sciences (including biology, chemistry, Earth science, and physics), history, creative movement and dance, foreign languages (e.g., Spanish, Japanese, and Arabic), gardening, health and nutrition, cooking, reading, art, yoga, music, charity, fashion design, carpentry, sports, and more.
Pono is the only outdoor democratic school in New York. We plan to grow with the oldest group and expand through high school.

Quick Stats (2021-22)

  • School Type: Alternative School
  • Grades: Nursery/Preschool-8
  • Students: 21 students
  • Yearly Tuition: $29,740
  • Average class size: 7 students
  • Application Deadline: None / Rolling

School Overview

Grades Offered
Grades Nursery/Preschool-8
Year Founded
Summer School Offered
Summer Program Cost
Summer Program Cost Notes
Summer camp enrollment is also available on a weekly basis, at $710/week.
Summer Program Details

Student Body

Total Students
21 students
Student Body Type
Students by Grade
Pono Student By Grade

Academics and Faculty

Total Classroom Teachers
4 teachers
Student : Teacher Ratio
National avg.: 13:1
% Faculty w/Advanced Degree
Average Class Size
7 students
Matriculation DataMatric. Data
Classroom Dress Code

Tuition and Acceptance Rate

Admission Deadline
None / Rolling
Yearly Tuition Cost
Tuition Notes
Full tuition for 2020–2021 is $29,740 for ages 5 and younger, and $31,200 for older children. Part time enrollment is prorated based on the number of days selected. A 10% siblings’ discount is offered.
Admissions Director
Kate Deshmukh


Total ExtracurricularsTotal Extra-curric.
3 extracurriculars
Club or Organization:
Extended Day Program

Arts and Music Programs:
Art Classes

Recreational Athletic Programs:
Soccer Club

School Notes

  • Pono offers school-age children an independentdemocratic, 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. 
  • 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, unwired, open-ended, dynamic, and flexible, it always adapts and adjusts to the interests of the students;
  • 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 high teacher to child 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.

School Reviews

Your documentary about Pono made me cry. What a wonderful school you have created. It makes me wish I still lived in New York...and that I could just come hang out with you all. And it made me wish that all children could be educated in such a way. You are opening New York City and the world to them like a big book, and you are filling their open hearts with love, joy, care and responsibility. Wow! Ruth Anne Hammond, RIE Mentor
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Quick Stats (2021-22)

  • School Type: Alternative School
  • Grades: Nursery/Preschool-8
  • Students: 21 students
  • Yearly Tuition: $29,740
  • Average class size: 7 students
  • Application Deadline: None / Rolling

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Did You Know?

The average private school tuition in New York, NY is $36,987 for elementary schools and $43,673 for high schools (read more about average private school tuition across the country).
The average acceptance rate in New York, NY is 59% (read more about average acceptance rates across the country).
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