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Profile of Punahou School

President Obama's Alma Mater


Profile of Punahou School

Punahou School

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Location : Manoa Valley, a neighborhood in Honolulu, Hawaii

Enrollment: : 3,760 students in kindergarten through 12th grade, making Punahou the largest co-ed independent school on a single campus in the U.S.

Tuition: $18,450 for all grades.

Financial aid: 11% of students receive need-based aid

Famous Alumni: President Barack Obama, class of 1979

Admissions: competitive; in 2011, there were 2,250 applicants for 450 spaces in K-12.

What Punahou is Like

Founded in 1841, Punahou (pronounced “Poon-a-hoe”) was originally a school to educate the children of Congregational missionaries in Hawaii. Soon after its founding, the school became non-sectarian. During World War II, the school was taken over by the Army Corps of Engineers, and students continued to study in local houses and at the University of Hawaii Teachers’ College.

The school has long educated the elite of Oahu, and its most famous alumnus, President Barack Obama, was able to attend Punahou thanks to a scholarship. Barack, or “Barry” as he was known as a Punahou student, started the school in fifth grade after having attended a local public grammar school and after having spent time living in Indonesia. He has written and spoken about his time at the school, where he spent a great deal of time playing basketball. At Punahou, Obama also shone in the classroom, where his international experience enabled him to speak knowledgeably about other cultures. He has spoken publicly about how much the school’s support and encouragement have meant to him, and he returned to Punahou as President and played basketball in the gym.

The school’s mission is centered not only on strong academics but also on character development and community service. The Luke Center for Public Service, at the heart of the campus near the famous lily pond, is dedicated to fostering service learning and helping students in grades k-12 connect with service opportunities in the community. Seniors take a course in community service and have time in their schedules to dedicate to community service. The school is one of the most environmentally sustainable or “greenest” in the country. Its new K-1 “neighborhood,” a five-building indoor/outdoor space, features use of solar energy and eco-friendly materials. The Case Middle School has won awards for sustainability; the air conditioning units turn off if the windows are opened, and the lights are designed to turn off if they do not detect motion or to dim if it’s a sunny day.

Though the school is non-denominational, it maintains a commitment to, as its mission reads, "develop moral and spiritual values consistent with the Christian principles on which Punahou was founded.” Students attend mandatory chapel services run by the school’s three full-time chaplains, and the chaplains teach and appear as guest lecturers in classrooms with the goal of enhancing character education. The school’s services embrace different faiths and ethnicities.

The school offers a rigorous college-preparatory program, including many Advanced Placement classes. Its classes include an emphasis on both Western and Eastern traditions; for example, a recent class entitled “Buddhist Philosophy and the Game of Go” featured texts by Kant and Hegel, as well as novels by Mishima and Kawabata. The Foreign Language department offers French, Spanish, Mandarin, Japanese, and Hawaiian, and the social studies department offers classes on Hawaiian culture and Asian History.

Since 1890, when students and teachers at Punahou formed the first football team in Hawaii, the athletic program has been taken very seriously at the school. The teams it fields are very strong, and many former students have gone on to play in the NFL. Punahou now has more than 120 teams in 21 sports. Sports Illustrated ranked the school as having the number-one school athletics program in 2008 and 2009 and as having the second-highest ranking program in 2010.

Punahou’s unbeatable facilities and top-notch program draw students from all over Oahu, and admission to the school is competitive. In 2011, 2,250 students applied for 450 spots in grades K-12.

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