A Haven for Learning and Belonging

Punahou’s Academy functions more like a small liberal arts college than a typical high school – with a progressive educational approach that caters to the current fast-paced, high-tech world; prioritizing resilience, creative thinking and collaborative projects. “Punahou students are not only encouraged to work in teams, they are expected to,” says Deane Salter ’98, Dean for the Class of 2027. “Meeting regularly after designated class hours is great not only for working in teams but also for strengthening bonds and fostering a sense of belonging.”

Often, however, the demand for meeting spaces outpaces the supply. Fortunately, a campus transformation is underway to address this need, with the new Academy Learning Commons (ALC) scheduled for completion in 2025. “The ALC is poised to change the landscape of the Academy, and will be more than just a physical structure,” says fellow Class of 2027 Dean Erin Wilkerson ’89 Maretzki. “It will be a hub for collaboration, knowledge-sharing and inspiration, somewhat like a university student center.”

The renovation project is expected to offer a haven for meetings, resolving the current challenges faced by students seeking suitable spaces for studying. The group work that Academy students undertake ranges from simple homework assignments to more involved collaborations, like community-based passion projects that take months to design and execute. 

Just as important, the ALC will provide a space for students to socialize and strengthen their sense of community. “Our aspiration is for the ALC to be a space that fosters academics, camaraderie and inspiration,” says Salter. He shared that “the ALC will serve as a gathering place for students to pursue their intellectual passions, to share their knowledge and ideas with authentic audiences and also serve as a crossroads where students can intersect with opportunities, people and ideas that they may not otherwise come into contact with. They may see another student working on something and be inspired or find a common interest that leads to the start of a new friendship.”  

While the building will still house the Academy library collection, Archives, classrooms and traditional spaces for learning, the ALC will also offer covered lānai spaces on all four sides of the building with seating for individuals or groups of students, along with both open and closed collaborative indoor spaces where groups can gather. A cafe will provide informal dining space for eating and studying, encouraging students to come together outside of classroom hours. 

“When students have a chance to come together spontaneously, over food or through shared work, they are able to enrich the educational experience for one another,” says Maretzki. “The ALC project is special because it provides a safe, inviting campus home for Academy students: a place where they know they will belong.”

By Tara Olney

Learn more about the Academy Learning Commons project at https://learningcommons.punahou.edu/

Upon its completion, the ALC will offer diverse options for academic and social gatherings – including more classrooms, a lānai and a café for students.

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