In November 2021, former Department of Education employee Bianca Antonio decided the distance learning paradigm was not working for her and her two children. Her passions for teaching, reacquainting herself and others with indigenous ways, foraging native plants, and spending time in nature were all integral components in her development of the unique educational program, the Pono Outdoor Program.
Antonio’s outdoor-centered program currently runs five days a week with students between the ages of 5-12. Her enthusiasm and love for the children is obvious as she describes what makes this program special. “We are 100% no waste. When we’re in the forest no one will know we’ve been there. Even down to the books. We use clipboards painted with chalkboard paint and our kids use chalk instead of paper. Some of the kids discovered some coral can be used as chalk. We have to allow them that safe space to explore.”
The day is primarily student-led. Meaning, students progress through their curriculum at their own pace, students choose the location for the day and what activities they’d like to do, as well as leading the daily ho’oponopono circle which teaches conflict resolution and healthy communication skills. Building confidence and striving to exemplify the values of aloha, respect, and kuleana are integral in every activity and lesson at Pono Outdoor Program.
The freedom and fluidity of the schedule along with the ‘ohana feeling they strive for amongst the community has wide appeal. In just a year and a half the program has grown from two students to forty, with a growing waiting list. All students are registered homeschoolers between the ages of 5-12. Families have the option to attend full-time or part-time and all students are accepted regardless of any physical or learning differences.
Envisioning Pono Outdoor Program’s future, Bianca shares big plans. She hopes to one day have their own land to farm and learn on that could increase enrollment; as well as finding a way to offer free tuition for every student. In the more immediate future, they are looking for a middle to high school specialist to help expand the program to serve older students.
For more information on the Pono Outdoor Program go to ponooutdoorprogram.org or call 808-298-7275.