Tacoma School of the Arts

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Tacoma School of the Arts
Tacoma SOTA logo.jpg
Tacoma, Washington
United States
Type Visual and Performing Arts School
Established 2001
School district Tacoma Public Schools
Principal Jon Ketler
Paul Kelly
Enrollment Roughly 60% of applicants
Number of students Around 600 (20% out of district)
Schedule Block
Campus Urban/open[disambiguation needed]

The Tacoma School of the Arts (SOTA or TSOTA) is the only arts school in the greater Tacoma, Washington area. SOTA historically only housed grades 10 through 12, but beginning in the 2012 school year, it began admitting students in the 9th grade as well.[1] SOTA's student capacity is around 600 students.[2] SOTA was established in the fall of 2001, with help from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.[3] Classes are housed in multiple venues across downtown Tacoma, in buildings that have historically served many purposes—including a department store, a music store, and a dance studio.[4] SOTA is a "rigorous, interdisciplinary, urban arts education."

SOTA is known for its rigorous arts and academic programs, and students are welcome to take classes at Tacoma's Science and Math Institute at Point Defiance park. SOTA and SAMi also offer University of Washington Credits through multiple classes and beginning in 2014 offer over 20 College in the High School classes for credit through Tacoma Community College.[5] Interdisciplinary study between the arts and academics are a strong focus at SOTA. Students are presented with multiple opportunities to travel, including service and study tours, as well as internships and volunteer opportunities. The school runs seamlessly in the community taking classes in multiple venues.

SOTA was one of three Washington state school winners of the inaugural state Schools of Excellence in Arts Education Award, part of the national program of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Schools of Distinction in Arts Education Awards.[6] Shortly after, SOTA was one of only four schools in the inaugural year to win at the national level.


SOTA tries to allow students to foster responsibility. To this goal, many SOTA projects are student-run, including some aspects of the school's administration.

SOTA Theatre
Address 1102 S. A Street, Suite 200 Tacoma, WA 98402 = Tacoma
United States
Owner Tacoma School of the Arts
Type Urban
Capacity ≈500
Opened 2001
Architect McGranahan Architects

Many Performing Arts projects are left up to students. Students have directed theatrical productions including The Glass Menagerie (dir. Kathryn Robinson, 2007) and The Last of the Darling Brent Girls, the latter also written by a student (dir. Kaylie Rainer, written by Roland C. Carette-Meyers, 2007).[7] All productions, most directed by teachers, star only SOTA students—exceptions are rare, such as The Trojan Women casting a very young non-student in the silent role of the toddler Astyanax (performed in autumn 2007).

While students are expected to take a wide variety of classes, they are also expected to specialize in one department, or "major". Departments offered include those of the Visual Arts (photography, sculpture, graphic design, film, drawing, and painting) and those of the Performing Arts (songwriting and audio recording, instrumental music, singer-songwriter, vocal music, dance, and technical theater). Some students may even choose to double major.

Admissions process[edit]

Up until the 2012-2013 school year, SOTA only accepted incoming Sophomores, and beginning that year, a Freshman class was admitted to the school along with the Sophomore class. Starting in the 2013-2014 school year, SOTA will only be accepting incoming Freshmen. Students first attend an information night during the fall or early winter. At the information night they schedule an appointment for an interview. They must provide their portfolio and all of its contents at the interview. Typically, the information nights and entire interview process are very community-oriented, with current students, parents, and notable community members participating in the interviews alongside teachers and faculty.

Daily life and academics[edit]

The school day is arranged to have four periods a day, in block periods over the week. Mondays and Wednesdays at SOTA students attend periods 1-4, and on Tuesdays and Thursdays students attend periods 5-8. There are 20 minute passing periods, as classes are held in over 10 different buildings and businesses. Three of these buildings are owned by Tacoma Public Schools and they are all within one square mile. Students use these 20 minutes to take buses,walk, and use the Tacoma Link light rail to their next class. Some classes are housed in the University of Washington Tacoma, Tacoma Art Museum and the Broadway Center for the Performing Arts. On Fridays in the mornings, students meet for MPG, Also known as Mentor Group, in which they are able to meet one-on-one with their mentor and discuss plans for graduation and projects at school. In the afternoon on Fridays students take an A&A, also known as Adventures and Applications, in which they are studying one subject every, once a month though instead of attending A&A students go to Showcases, where students will perform and display their art for their peers to see.

Annual events include mentor day in the park, and SOTA Camp.

The Humanities classes taught multi-aged with 9th and 10th graders grouped together and with 11th and 12th graders grouped. SOTA offers all math and science classes that a typical comprehensive high school would offer, except for Advanced Placement classes. Students are welcome to take higher level science classes or science classes for UW credit at the Tacoma Science and Math Institute. Classes are held in the 3 buildings owned and leased by the Tacoma Public Schools, as well as the UW Tacoma campus, Urban Grace Church, and other local partners/venues.

Like the arts, the academics are rigorous and arts are commonly integrated into curriculum. SOTA has one of the highest number of students pursue a post-secondary education in the area. SOTA has implemented Standards-Based Instruction and Assessment. Classes for college credit are offered.

SOTA has an extremely low average class size, thanks to adjunct artists and more class periods.

The various arts classes that are offered are high-quality and rigorous, and are comparative to college-level arts classes. Students may explore many arts disciplines including drawing, painting, photography, film, dance, theater, tech theater, vocals, instrumental music, songwriting, and audio recording. Students from the Science and Math Institute (SAMI) are invited to take SOTA's art classes as well. In these classes, students have the opportunity to partake in a wide variety of unique projects out in the community. Students take classes to complete a major in their concentrated area of study, but are also welcome to dabble and take classes in a variety of disciplines.

In addition to the regular staff, local artists are also hired by the school to teach their art forms. Included in this innovative "Artist in Residence" program are the courses in dance, theatre, creative writing, jazz improvisation, string technique, drawing, photography and more.. These adjunct artists teach only part-time.

Mini-term, also referred to as 'J-Term', is a section of the first semester where instead of going to regular classes, students can attend a month-long class or various internships arranged by the school. Mini-term occurs during January, after students return from winter break (with the exception of one year, when it happened in March due to weather complications for many Service and Study Tours). Some students plan to go on service trips instead of internships. Previous service trips have included China, Mexico, Cambodia, Laos, and India. Students have to apply for SST a year in advance and after being accepted to participate in the SST have to then fund-raise and pull together money to go on the trip. These trips are planned, coordinated, and orchestrated by the teachers. Mini-term classes allow students to explore one subject deeply, often including the combination of disciplines and involving a final project.

Internship sites have included talk radio stations, City of Tacoma, Hospitals, among around 100 other hosts in the Puget Sound Area.


MPGs, or Mentor Project Groups, are groups to which students are assigned in their freshman year. About 20 students are in each group, along with a "mentor" or staff member. The groups meet on Fridays, and use the time to work on projects that benefit the school and greater Tacoma community. Students stay with their MPG for all 4 years of attendance at SOTA, fostering strong connections between staff and students. Mentors may also fulfill the role of academic advisors along with the Career Center.

Students have been accepted by some of America's leading colleges and universities including Occidental College, Lewis & Clark College, Fordham University, The University of Washington Honors Program, Bard College, Columbia University, Yale College, New York University, Reed College, UC Berkeley, Tufts University and many other leading programs.

Students have also gained access to some of America's top conservatories including Oberlin College and Ithaca College.

The Next Move department offers courses to help students learn the organizational skills needed to succeed after high school. They help match students with community partners for career shadows and internships and ensure that every student maintains a resume. The Next Move is staffed by career counselors and instructors who ensure that every student knows what their thirteenth year plan is.

Student opportunities[edit]

In 2008, SOTA created its own FIRST FRC team with the help of Team 360 from Bellarmine Preparatory School. They are FIRST FRC team 2557, the SOTABots. Their first year, the SOTABots came in second, won Rookie of the Year in the FIRST Microsoft Seattle Regional,[8] and went on to get 22nd place in their division in the Atlanta International Competition.[9]

Since 2008, the SOTABots have kept up the same level of excellence, winning the Microsoft Seattle Regional in 2010, the Seattle Cascade Regional in 2012, and multiple awards for their Gracious Professionalism and their safety practices.[10]

Many students serve on state and district leadership boards including WASC, State Board of Education, and Student Representative to the Tacoma School Board.

Notable alumni[edit]

Brad Oberhofer and Benjamin Roth of Oberhofer, who have performed on the Late Show with David Letterman.[11] Anders Ibsen, Lawyer and Tacoma City Council Chair [12] Molly Hamilton and Michael Stasiak of the band Widowspeak are both SOTA alums.

SOTA students make frequent use of the Link to get from class to class, across Downtown Tacoma
Name Position Notes
Jared Pappas-Kelley Video & Screenwriting Instructor Co-creator of Toby Room magazine and curator of ArtRod
Luke Sieczek Filmmaker (IMDb page) and previous film instructor
Brent Hartinger Creative Writing Instructor Author of the award-winning banned-book Geography Club
Garth Stein Author of The Art of Racing in the Rain
Mary Boone Author and current instructor

! Nolan Garett || Singer/Songwriter Brick Lanes |- ! [4] || Musician and Current Alumni

In popular culture[edit]

Several SOTA buildings were used in the film 10 Things I Hate About You; the guitar store in the film is now part of the SOTA music department, as well as Club SOTA,[13] an all-ages club hosted by the school.[14]

Sister schools[edit]

The Tacoma Science and Math Institute, or SAMI, opened for the 2009-2010 school year. Industrial Design, Engineering, and Arts, also known as IDEA was opened in the 2016-2017 school year. They are both the district's other magnet schools, with a schedule and concept similar to SOTA.[15]


External links[edit]