This was our 16th year starting school with 3 days of camp. Going to camp with over 1,225 students, 105 staff, and 60 plus parents and community partners over the course of 8 days for 3 schools is a lot of work and takes a dedicated team that truly understands the WHY.

We believe that to build a strong learning community we need to start by recognizing student’s individual strengths and develop a relationship with each student. Camp is that perfect opportunity for us to recognize the in-coming freshman and provide leadership opportunities for our returning sophomores, juniors and seniors.

This shared experience provides that place where we can teach and reinforce the four pillars: begin to live out community from the first day of the year, build empathy for diverse experiences in our mentor groups, practice critical thinking, and create a school environment that strikes a balance between the analytical and creative, the individual and the whole.

A student reminded me of the power of camp and this collective experience. She shared with me how she was very much looking forward to continuing to explore her interest in the visual arts because in the past she had little access to arts courses or resources. But what most excited her were the connections and friendships she was making and had made through her mentor group. She understood how being part of a family (her mentor group) that could share their struggles and success, and support each other through learning and life was more important than just her passion for the arts. She ended by saying “it’s so great to be a part of a community where I am using my art and passion to help others realize their dreams and passions, that’s my priority one”.   

This is just one of many student stories that demonstrates the importance of community and a personal relationship. At camp we are truly able to establish a strong foundation, as students meet in their mentor groups and learn about our four pillars Community, Empathy, Thinking and Balance. As a result, each of us gains a larger perspective, and a passion for helping others. 

Jon Ketler


Short updates from our students about their experiences at camp!

Without camp, I don't believe I would have attended SOTA. Since I was 9 years old, I know I wanted to go to the arts school downtown. But as freshman year approached in the summer of 2013, I felt apprehensive towards this new school. I worried I would be mission out on the opportunities at a regular high school. I went to camp unsure, but there I found a community of people where I just fit. I knew then that SOTA was the right choice. Now I'm a senior. I couldn't be more thankful for the transformation SOTA has given me. - Lauren G., Senior
It was an eye opener. You could feel the energy around camp and the people that were there. We're treated as adults, even as a freshmen, you're given responsibility. - Aaron K., Junior
I was surprised when I got to camp with how welcoming the students and teachers were. - Winter W., Sophomore
Great team building and lovely conversations about who we are. - Hal L., Junior
Fun time to meet and hang with friends. - Jaden N., Sophomore
A great introduction to the year. - Braedon C., Senior
Camp is a way for our school community to get together and bond. Whether is be a bond through our MPG's, food, pillars etc. It just helps every one to feel more comfortable about the upcoming school year. - Caitlin J., Senior
While many people may be frightened their first year at camp, it is an extraordinary experience. Knowing there are 500+ people you don't know at this camp is horrifying. But after three short days you feel so connected to people you don't even know. Every year I dread it beforehand, but once we pull into Black Lake I am reminded of each wonderful detail. This year as I prepared for my last camp I questioned why I never appreciated it and wonder where the good times have gone. - Leo F., Senior
Camp is a great opportunity to get to know you classmates and bond, and a good way for freshmen to settle in and get comfortable. I look forward to it every year! - Becca M., Sophomore
Camp is definitely one of the things I look forward to over the summer. It's just a way for all of us students to become more close as a community, which happens to be one of our pillars. I also feel as if it's a great way to welcome our new freshmen. - Syierra S., Sophomore

Tyler Acord is effortlessly cool. I remember him being that way as a 14 year old; while talking to him recently, I found that he continues to be that way at 25. And yet, he manages to make everyone feel welcomed, you aren’t uncool by comparison. I had to ask him several times during our interview “now, sorry, but who is that?” only to learn that the person he knows happens to be a famous DJ/artist/group etc. and I’m completely out of touch. After several of these moments, he graciously asked me if I know of Wyclef, which was the one name that, yes, I did know, but no, not because of his recent solo work but because of his 1990’s group the Fugees. All this to say, Tyler is a bridge builder, not one to let his passion and knowledge and obvious cool-ness make him stand apart, but instead, finding ways to invite people in.

Ty is cool in part because he’s totally engaged and devoted to his passion- music- and in part because his passion is really cool. Immediately after SOTA he worked for a year to save up money to buy audio equipment. He went to Cornish to study Jazz Music Theory. After a year at Cornish he got an internship with Atlantic Records in LA, and ended up working there for two years after his internship. Then he formed a band with several guys from LA and his twin brother, Sky, which made it big and toured around the world for several years. Now, he’s back in LA doing what he’s really passionate about, producing music. For those that don’t know, myself included prior to talking with Ty, producing music has changed over the past decade. Producers are artists, creating all the beats and music and sounds and the working with vocal artists to write the melody and words that will go over top of the music. He speaks passionately about this process and credits Paul Eliot (Instrumental Music) for developing music from something that was “fun” to his passion. Ty’s passion and talent have helped him become really successful. He won a DJ competition hosted by Zedd and was recently signed by a manager in LA.

In talking with Ty, it’s clear that his devotion to relationship is intentional, and something that was reinforced by his years at SOTA – it was a recurring theme in our conversation. As we discussed what most stands out about his time at SOTA he said, “The relationship that the teachers built with the students […] at SOTA the entire faculty cared. It got me more excited about what I was learning. For example, I’m not the type of person that is ‘naturally’ interested in science or math. Johnny Devine and Ken Luthy (science teachers) really made an effort to engage everyone and especially the people that weren’t really into it. It really helped me.” When I asked him about the school retreat he said, “It’s not like any other experience going to school for the first couple days. You’re just thrown into this situation with all these people you don’t know. It’s like ‘Alright, it’s time to meet, mingle, and hang out!’ […] It made me excited for the rest of the year.” This inclusive attitude was also reinforced in his classes with Paul Eliot: “Paul helped me be the type of person that can appreciate people that you don’t agree with or are different from you and internalize their perspective. Now as I am meeting people, I can be curious and collaborative.”  

Ty’s advice for current students is simple: care about your school and recognize the resource you have to both follow your passions and learn about life. He says, “I feel lucky to have been a part of SOTA. It steered my life in a positive direction.”