Close to home

KILAUEA — Lucille Ben-Avraham says she feels blessed her daughter Trinity is able to attend a private school that is close to their Princeville home and offers a quality education.

“We really do feel Pu‘ukumu School offers a really high academic standard first of all that nurtures intellectual curiosity, personal growth and we feel that it encourages critical thinking,” Ben-Avraham said, whose daughter is an upcoming eighth grader. “They definitely promote a long love of learning.”

Founded by Anna Olvera and the late Bill Porter, Pu‘ukumu School opened its doors to 30 students in 2013. The pair formulated a plan to offer a college prep environment that was affordable for parents.

“The school was an answer to a prayer from the community,” said Robyn Botkin, co-director Pu‘ukumu School. “Parents and families were looking for and have a great need for a middle and high school in the North Shore of Kauai.”

The school will be breaking ground on a new location this fall. The 21,500-square-foot building is expected to house 180 students and 15 faculty members. The new location will be at Anaina Hou Community Park near Kauai Mini Golf and Botanical Garden.

Last year, it had about 60 students.

This year, the school plans to add a full ninth grade and is pursuing dual accreditation with Hawaii Association of Independent Schools and the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

“Kauai County has experienced a 6.9 percent population increase since 2010,” according to a press release. “Approximately one-fifth of its current residents are under age 18, resulting in a high demand for schooling options. Kapaa’s middle and high schools are the only options for most residents and will soon be over capacity. Pu’ukumu School is a convenient and unique academic option for many North Shore families.”

Pu‘ukumu School is supported by a gift from the Porter family, Botkin said.

“The original model of the school was to create a blended learning model with one teacher per grade level,” she said. “The implementation of that proved very difficult to do as we expanded into high school.”

The curriculum has evolved into four core subjects — English language arts, science, math and social studies — each taught by one instructor, who teaches his or her core subject to every grade but at varied levels, Botkin said.

“We are looking to educate our students from the whole being point of view,” Botkin said. “We also have a service and culture requirement to our curriculum, which is an important part of what we are.”

The school focuses on developing good character, community service and academic success.

“Character is a huge piece of what we’re doing,” Botkin said. “We do that through discussion, education and mentoring of certain values that have been identified on a global level.”

Botkin said the school requires students to also participate in community service.

“In return, what we see is our community very supportive of our program,” she said. “We see that by a lot of our elective instructors offering an area of expertise.”

Some of those unique elective classes include underwater photography, surfing and skateboarding.

“We’ve had a skateboarding elective where we allow students to work with a semi-pro skateboarder to utilize math, science and hands-on skateboarding to learn about building ramps, basic physics and learning about becoming a more proficient skateboarder,” she said.

For students like Trinity who live in Princeville, the closest option for a public education is Kapaa Middle School.

“Knowing that we can go to a private school that is close to home and just have more time to be with Trinity after school and before school is very valuable,” Ben-Avraham said.

Lucille said Trinity is also getting the individual attention she needs to excel.

“She says she’s learning quicker and she’s learning from other students because of their interactions,” she said. “They actually get to interact as opposed to just sitting there and listening to a teacher.”

Kathleen Viernes’s son, La‘i, is an upcoming freshman at the school and was home schooled until the sixth grade.

“At first, he didn’t want to go, and I suggested that he try it for a month,” Viernes said. “If it wasn’t a fit for him, he didn’t have to do it. After that month, I couldn’t pull him away.”

Viernes said the school offers a balanced education for her son.

“He’s been active in wilderness awareness. I found out that they were a school that have art, nature classes, PE, so that’s something I really value,” she said. “He loves going. The teachers have been great. It’s a very healthy environment for the kids there.”

The school will host an informational session from 5-7 p.m. July 13 at the new school site. Anyone interested in attending can register at


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