We envision a future where all students can participate in high quality educational experiences that develop their unique passions so they become life long learners, thinkers, creators, and activists.

Our approach to transforming education stems from our four pillars – community, balance, thinking, and empathy. Our pillars create our schools’ culture, and bring focus and purpose to all our programs.


"Calculus class is located inside an aquarium, and Spanish, in the Rose Garden. Occasionally, I end up with an opossum in my Animal Life Drawing class. (Thankfully, it takes place at the zoo)." Read More


“[SOTA practices] full-inclusion Special Education [...] It’s individuals caring for individuals. There was recognition that Aaron is a valuable person. ” Read More


"SOTA did many things for my life, but the greatest gift they gave me was encouraging me to think out of the box. [...] You may not know how, but it doesn’t mean you can’t learn along the way." Read More


“You have to show students the competing interests [...] and be explicit about the tensions. Most scenarios are both/and, not either/or. [...] two things can be simultaneously true and you have to deal with that complexity.” Read More

In Our Element Blog

In the News

Cool Schools: 3 High School Options in Tacoma

For 16 years, Tacoma School of the Arts (SOTA) has provided a downtown alternative high school experience for South Sound students. In 2009, Tacoma Public Schools opened the Science and Math Institute (SAMi), at the Point Defiance Zoo. This year, they added the Industrial Design Engineering and Art (iDEA) to the mix.

A Bright iDea in Tacoma - South Sound Magazine

Within the walls of the former Park Avenue Elementary School in the South end of Tacoma, 12 5 ninth-graders are challenging the traditional notions of high school.

Our Story

Elements of Education began in 1999 with an idea from Jon Ketler, who was teaching ceramics at Stadium High School. He wanted to start a school that utilized the resources of the museums in downtown Tacoma, which were largely empty during the day. Thanks to a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, The Tacoma School of the Arts (SOTA) was able to open it's doors to 150 10th graders in the fall of 2001.

Since then, Elements of Education has grown and worked with over 5,000 students in a variety of capacities through our programs. We've served students through our three partner schools, the Xplore summer program for 3rd-5th graders, and the Next Move Internship program, which operates in all high schools in Tacoma Public Schools.


We envision a future where all students can participate in high quality educational experiences that develop their passions so they become life long learners, thinkers, creators, and activists. 


Elements of Education Partners transforms the culture of education through innovative Partner Schools and Programs built on the core values of community, balance, thinking, and empathy. 


Quality education is unequally distributed and many students fall through the cracks due to lack of engagement. Students that make it through schools are often not prepared for a modern workforce that emphasizes creativity and problem solving. 


Elements of Education Partners partners with community resources to provide high quality educational experiences for students. Students at Partner Schools experience innovative curriculum and programs both inside the classroom and through experiences with our Community Partners. The most successful programs expand beyond our schools to become Partner Programs, offered to students across Tacoma Public Schools. 

partner schools

  • Equity-focused Admission Process
  • Full Inclusion Special Education
  • Mentor Group
  • Project Based Education (Miniterm, Microterm, and A&A, Maker’s Space)
  • Marine Science Center
  • Service and Study Tours
  • Robotics

partner programs

  • Next Move Internships
  • Adjunct Artist Program
  • Xplore Summer Program
  • Early Learning Center

community partners

  • Schools in the midst of community resources:
    • MetroParks - Pt. Defiance
    • Downtown Tacoma (UW Tacoma, businesses, museums, and theater district)
  • Sharing space with Business Partners
  • Internship Hosts across the city

Student Outcomes

Graduation Rates

English Language Arts

% Meeting Standard

Next Move Internships, Spring 2017 - serving 269 students across Tacoma Public Schools

Donor Impact

Thank you for your financial support! Money raised is used to hire adjunct artists, create innovative pilot programs that promote educational equity, and create learning environments where students are challenged to take ownership of their education. Philanthropy helps us develop community partnerships, expand partner programs, continue innovation at partner schools, and support students as they journey through their formative high school years and beyond. 

We're all stronger when we work together. Thank you to our many community partners that provide opportunities for our students, help inform the culture of our schools, and make our work possible.