I’ve been to eight different schools since elementary school, in different states, but SOTA is the only school that I have attended that has no separation no matter gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion, and ability. Often in schools today, students with a disability, or any form of being different, are put in different classes. Even though they are working on their developmental skills, being put in these classes they are deprived of the ‘social experience’ a kid should have. Not only does this affect their social skills amongst peers, this can also affect their social life during adulthood.
Some may argue that pull out classes are what's best for special needs students. The school systems hires special education teachers who know how to provide for these students, and who have a generous amount of time. But does this really gives students a chance to better their education? In my opinion, a healthy school life- or just life for that matter- includes academics, social, peers, and empathy. Special needs students are experiencing three fourths of a healthy life.
One goal of SOTA is the acceptance amongst peers, teachers, and administrators. I’ve learned that SOTA takes its own path, everyone is different and we accept those differences. Now, do we fall short every once in awhile? Of course, no one's perfect. But we do our best we see when this is happening, and we work together and remind each other of the four pillars: community, balance, thinking, and empathy. We value everyone's opinions. Because we're such a diverse group of students, this going to be difficult at times, but we are accepting of other people's opinions, we understand that the student who is critiquing our work is only trying to help us grow. Another reason why SOTA is different is because equality: at SOTA I've noticed that everyone is treated the same. We also make it a point to practice empathy. When someone gets something wrong or someone makes a mistake, we show them empathy. We don't bash them, we don't say foul things to them just because they got it wrong. We encourage them to keep pressing forward.
As I was debating on what the theme of this blog should be, I became fascinated with the history of SOTA. How could a school so different in every aspect come to be? I came to the realization that I’ve been going to this school for two years and don’t fully know the history, so I set to speak to the founder himself, Jon Ketler! I asked him some questions about the school’s purpose and history like: why is SOTA downtown, what got you started with the idea of SOTA, and what is the purpose of SOTA. Jon Ketler put SOTA downtown for three reasons: to access the museums anytime we wanted, to be an open campus, and to have that sense of freedom and respect that we are being treated as young adults. The purpose of SOTA is simply to have a diverse range of students accepted to learn differently having an art perspective. It's the same for SAMI, you're learning in an science perspective and IDEA you're learning a mix of both perspectives.
I decided that I also wanted to get a SOTA student’s input on this, so I asked one of our students Josh, who is partially blind, a few questions about how SOTA has impacted him. He answered joyfully that it has been a challenge at times, but the school has not only helped him as a student, but also overcome his challenges of walking several streets to get to different classes and walking in big groups getting on the link or taking the bus. It's helped him become an adult. He's also stated that SOTA has never brought him down for his differences: everyone has only worked as a community to make him feel as welcome and as safe as possible.
People like Jon Ketler are a true inspiration to me because it only takes one person think outside the box and change school and the learning system based on what the students need. This is what all three of the schools are: diverse, passionate students not only working as a school but also a community equipping us for successful adult life.