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School of the Arts (SOTA)

An award-winning program that transforms students through arts and community

Senior Kameishi Williams often advises new students at Tacoma’s School of the Arts (SOTA) to not try too hard to fit in.

“Just be you,” she says. “This place is so diverse and open. It helps teach you respect and it also helps you realize that everyone is equal. No one is too different when we’re all different.”

That sense of community and acceptance is pervasive at SOTA, an innovative high school in downtown Tacoma. The school offers a focus on the arts—and an opportunity for students to recognize their connection to each other and the community.

Being part of a community

“SOTA is all about community,” says Co-Director Paul Kelly. “Connecting within our school community is extremely important, and our students are also part of the downtown community and interact every with local businesses in many ways, including through internships.”

The program is designed to prepare students for college and many of SOTA’s courses look and feel like college courses. Classes are multi-age and interdisciplinary. Students take intensive mini-terms that dive deep into one subject such as Caribbean music or modern architecture. While the school offers math and science, students can also take more advanced classes in those subjects through SOTA’s counterpart, the Science and Math Institute.

The school encourages students to take responsibility for themselves and their learning. The urban setting helps. There are no lockers or cafeteria and the students travel on their own to class in different buildings.

Success from innovation

“We want to teach our students to be creative thinkers and problem solvers,” says SOTA Co-Director Jon Ketler.

It’s working. SOTA students have gone on to Ivy League schools, prestigious art colleges and careers in music and theater. The John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts recognized SOTA in 2011 as a school of distinction.

For many students the SOTA experience helps them grow in ways beyond their imagination.  Senior Seth Thomas says you just have to be open to it. 

“SOTA molds you,” he says. “You don’t even know it’s happening, and then one day you realize you’ve become this totally different person.”



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 Get to know SOTA


Innovation Model: SOTA provides an arts-focused education in an urban setting in downtown Tacoma. Students choose a specific arts major, and also complete internships in their area of study. The school’s motto is “Community, Empathy, Thinking, Balance” and the teachers strive to incorporate those values into their classes.

Students best served: Any student can apply to go to SOTA. The application process happens during the eighth grade year. Students should have an interest in the arts, though they don’t need have already excelled in the arts.

Grades: Ninth through Twelfth

Students: 500

Teacher training: Many of SOTA’s instructors are artists and/or have professional experience in their area of instruction. The school also hires adjunct instructors, who are working professionals with art expertise.

School report card

School Web site

Special clubs and after-school programs: Health and Fitness Club • Student Chefs • Dance Committee • Change Starts Now, an environmental club • SOTA Fashion Club • SOTA Actors Guild • SOTAbots • Composting Club • Mountain/Road Bike Club • Savoy Swing Club • Honor Society • Bible Club • Student newspaper • SOTA Knitwits, a crafting club

Related links:SOTA earns School of Distinction in Arts Education awardElements of Education

Designated Innovative School - Washington State