The idea behind the founding of Pono came from my own journey in education and learning. One of the most illuminating realizations in my life regarding learning occurred to me after twenty two years of traditional schooling, culminating with a doctoral degree in education. It was then when I realized that learning was really about making connections that can help elevate and broaden one’s understanding and view of life with all its wonder and complexity without any one facet taking primacy over the rest. My journey took several more years of research into the development and history of a diversity of classical and modern, Western and Eastern models and systems of learning and education. Along with deep introspection into the purpose of education and process of learning, I finally came up with the philosophy and principles of Pono Learning. This all became immeasurably enhanced by the insight I am getting from observing my own daughter’s innate desire for learning and sense of direction to make meaning of the world around her, within the needed, personalized, free, and respectful environment that I strive to provide for her. Pono Learning is a starting point for a community of parents, children, educators, and other committed people who believe in the necessity and value of providing such an environment in which our children can grow.
Prior to starting Pono Learning, I was a Professor in teacher education programs at Columbia University’s Teachers College and the City University of New York. For over six years, I taught in the areas of learning disabilities, disability studies, and inclusive education and published articles on the intersections of spirituality, post-coloniality, and disability, as well as the development of special and inclusive education programs in the United States and globally.
I hold a B.A. in English literature from Damascus University, an M.A. in learning disabilities, an M.S. in reading and learning disabilities, and an Ed.D. in curriculum and teaching. All my graduate studies were at Teachers College, Columbia University. I live in Manhattan with my husband and co-author, Tarek Hatab, and my daughter, Sulaf, who is enrolled at Pono Learning.
When people ask, “Why Pono?” it’s easy for me to respond. Pono children have an active voice in their education; visiting teachers are experts in their fields; and weekly field trips introduce students to the rich diversity of New York City. Pono provides authentic learning experiences and engages the whole child. I am enthusiastic about Pono as a parent and as a teacher. My daughter thrives in an environment that respects and encourages her curiosity. As a teacher, I benefit from exchanges with children who are inquisitive, kind, and engaged. I often discover I am learning with my students!
My background is in educational publishing and bilingual education. I have written and edited programs for emerging and struggling readers and for reading teachers, taught in a bilingual (Spanish/English) classroom, and instructed adult and children English language learners. I hold a bachelor’s degree in Spanish and religion from Wittenberg University and a master’s degree in theology from the University of Chicago. My most rewarding learning experiences have been immersive, as when I lived with a local family in Melilla, a Spanish community in North Africa.
I live in Manhattan with my husband, Adeet, and our daughter, who is always happy to answer the question, “Why Pono?”
It’s hard to believe that I have been an educator for 22 years now—it still feels as fresh, new, and exciting as when I first started teaching! For me, teaching is the ultimate learning experience; a constant process of questioning, refining, and making new connections with people and ideas. My journey first began in high school when, sitting in my physics class in one of the nation’s “top” schools, I heard my internal voice say, “This is a missed opportunity.” I was responding to the passive format in which my learning was taking place—teacher standing at the front writing on a board, students passively taking notes. This “hands-off” approach made me feel cut-off from my nature. As a visual artist, dancer, singer, and amateur linguist, I craved diverse, multi-sensory, active ways in which to process and retain new information: to bring my whole self to the experience. I believed that most students would learn better and gain more enjoyment from this way of learning. As I look back now, it makes perfect sense. It’s natural for human beings to want to learn in ways that engage who they are as individuals: their passions and their modes of interacting with the world. After experiencing learning in a similar, one-dimensional way in college, I set out to change things; to create for my students a three-dimensional, multi-modal, and personalized world of wonder and inspiration!
I believe that all human beings, young and old, want to feel capable, valued, cared for, safe, and understood, to be involved in activities that excite, engage, challenge, and teach them about the world and themselves, to experience opportunities for large group, small group, partnered and independent activities, to be close to one another and to have space, to have time for lively external expression and interaction and time for quiet, internal processing, and to be allowed a voice in how this happens. We all need our physical, emotional, and intellectual needs respected and met in order to be happy, healthy and successful. In all of my incarnations throughout the years: high school Spanish teacher, dual language kindergarten and second grade teacher, Spanish poetry and drama teacher, and now literacy specialist, I have kept this ever present. My work has been driven by the awareness that my students are multifaceted, natural individuals with minds, bodies, and spirits that need to be fully engaged and respected. My own experience tells me that when this happens we feel empowered. This is how I want my students to feel!
I have enjoyed all of my teaching experiences but, as a public school teacher, politics sometimes proved an obstacle to creating the type of community and experiences I longed to offer children; my approach could only extend as far as the boundaries of my own classroom. I had been researching about democratic education, and I discovered Pono. Pono is a democratic learning community where all members have a voice and students have a right to learn in the ways that work best for them. At Pono I have found a home where my awareness of and respect for children’s multifaceted nature is shared. Here I can move forward, striving to apply my whole self to nurturing the whole child, in a connected, like-minded community. I’m so happy to be a part of Pono!
I have been an educator for more than 20 years, founding Storefront Science in 2012 to create a science learning space that focused on exploration and inquiry. However, I am more than just a science educator. I am a single mother, a jazz musician, an avid traveller, a published author, and a seeker.
I hold a BA in Biology, an M.Ed in Science Education and an Ed.D. in International Educational Development with a specialization in Peace Education. I was drawn to my concentration in peace education since I believe strongly that education can transform the world and that educators must work for peace and justice. If we provide children with holistic, cooperative and interdisciplinary learning experiences, they learn the underlying core values of peace education: Humane Relationship, Global Citizenship and Planetary Stewardship.
I started my career as a middle and high school science teacher, teaching in Seattle, Ithaca, and New York City. After completing my doctorate at Columbia University (Teachers College), I was an assistant professor for five years at Adelphi University then Fordham University where I taught courses in science education, educational philosophy, psychology, sociology, and curriculum development. Needing to feel more connected to education “on the ground”, I then served as the Executive Director of the not-for-profit Salvadori Center for five years, transforming it into one of the leading math and science organizations in New York City public schools.
Believing that I needed to do more for my Northern Manhattan community, I founded Storefront Science in 2012 to bring my love of exploration to the children and teachers of NYC. I believe in play…and think lots of science can be learned by playing.
I love my time at Pono. The children and adults are curious and energetic and I love creating “emergent” curriculum based on the children’s interests and scientific questions.
In addition to teaching at Pono and Storefront Science, I provide professional and curriculum development for schools, community centers, media and museums. I sing jazz when I can. And write as much as possible. I have numerous education publications to my credit (and blog for the Huffington Post). My first book Gettin’ My Word Out: Voices of Urban Youth Activists was published in 2007 by SUNY Press. It is based on my research with NYC teenage peace builders. My latest book Science: Not Just For Scientists. Easy Explorations for Young Children was released in 2014 by Gryphon House Press and was informed by some of the lessons I did with the kids at Pono. It is the winner of the 2015 Tillywig Toy Brain Child Award, the 2015 Mom's Choice Gold Award, and the 2015 National Parenting Publications Award.
I am currently writing a science-themed middle-grades novel and am attending Union Theological Seminary.
At my core, I’ve always been an artist, one that is at ease with being creative and motivated by doing so. In my teenage years, I won an Art Scholarship to be trained by practicing artists on Saturdays for the duration of high school. A moment of inspiration came in math class though, when I realized that my fascination with art was directly related to problem solving and the creativity that was required to answer the math questions posed by my professors. For this reason, I enjoy the fruits of Visual Art education, knowing that my students may not aspire to become artists themselves, but whose lives will ultimately benefit from classes infused by heightened creative challenges, awareness, imagination and the ability to truly ‘see’ with depth and insight. There’s so much more to art than art!
My BA in Fine Arts is complemented by a Graphic Design diploma and MA in Art and ESL Education. Spanning my 18-year teaching career, I have lived on three continents: from the outback of my native Australia, to the high Andes of South America and currently, the United States where my husband and I call the metropolis of New York home. I have been a ‘founding mother’ at the beginning stages of two international schools and established Visual Arts departments and enriching curriculums for the vigorous International Baccalaureate Diploma. Teaching on the international circuit taught me the value of diversity and an appreciation for different learning styles across different continents and cultures. Now, working part-time with Pono, I appreciate the dramatic shift in emphasis towards democratic learning as they choose to celebrate the individual voices of the children. For this reason, it is an absolute pleasure to engage with the Pono children and their upbeat energy.
While in the Americas, I have become proficient in Spanish, won a national award for my first children’s book, been witness to volcanic and political eruptions, explored the cloud forest, volunteered to build houses for the underprivileged in Nicaragua, adapted to a metropolis, launched countless student art careers, coordinated community service projects for teenagers, marched in the name of Planet Earth, started a small business and dared to follow a creative life.
Today in the US, and with the buzz of the Big Apple outside my window, I continue to draw, paint and design; solving daily creative problems for both my clients and myself. As a practicing artist, environmental and cultural themes are my absolute passions as well as working with small business and socially responsible organizations. My artwork is seen in print, on social media and in private collections in the Americas, Europe and Australasia.
I believe that learning should be student-centered, authentic, and appealing to children’s natural curiosity. I am privileged to be a part of the Pono community, where life-long learners are nurtured.
I hold a B.A. in Childhood/Special Education from New York University and earned an M.A. from Teachers College, Columbia University, in the Literacy Specialist Program. I am a new mom and see it as no coincidence that I am joining Pono at a time when I am now raising another human being, my son Judah. I am grateful to follow a career that falls in line with my parenting style and beliefs about nurturing children.
Ali Dineen is a native New Yorker who has spent the past several years exploring different worlds of music and art, and honing her own craft. She grew up surrounded by music in her home, and began singing in choirs, musicals and bands during high school. After graduating from Bard College in 2012 with a degree in studio art, she worked as a carpenter at Berkeley Repertory Theater in California. Since then, she has worked and toured with Bread and Puppet Theater, as puppeteer, singer, and musician, and performed and recorded with different musical groups, also releasing an album of original music in 2014. She plays accordion, guitar, washboard and piano, and is currently working on shadow puppet shows and original music, as well as visual art for activist campaigns in NYC. She is very grateful to be in the Pono community, and to learn every day what true kindness and compassion are from everyone at the learning center.
My interest in education was first sparked by a high school history teacher who admired alternative teaching models. As we explored education as a cooperative process between students and teachers, I began to realize learning doesn't have to be a passive experience.
I was born and raised in Brazil and came to understand the impact education has not only on individuals, but also on nations. Three years ago I moved to the United States to pursue my bachelor’s degree in history from Reed College and explore how nations and institutions can approach education both culturally and methodologically.
I have come to Pono with the hope of learning not only the ideology behind nurturing balanced individuals, but the practical details as well. For me, Pono represents trust, love, and compassion: a place where children and adults are motivated to grow.