Welcome to our first monthly newsletter! In this issue you’ll find a year-end recap of the students we’ve served, an update on IDEA, which will open this fall, and a highlight of one of SOTA’s 2006 Alums.  Please feel free to share this with your friends, and be sure to check out our new website www.elementsofed.org for the latest info on what we’re doing.

It's been a great year for Elements of Education.  The "completer class" from SAMI graduated (the class that were freshmen when the first class were seniors), SOTA celebrated it's 13th graduation, the Next Move placed interns from ALL Tacoma Public High Schools, and we have 126 excited freshmen who are excited to create our newest school, IDEA.

We are so thankful to have a wide network of community partners, parents, students, and alumni that donate time and money to support Elements of Education Partners, our partner schools (SOTA, SAMI, IDEA), and programs (Next Move, Adjunct Instructors, BRIDGE, Xplore).  We believe all students have the right to a high-quality education – thank you for partnering with us to make that dream a reality.

Thank you for all your support,

Elizabeth Hirschl ’06 SOTA
Director of Development
Elements of Education

2015/2016 by the numbers


We are so excited to open our third innovative school in Tacoma this fall, Industrial Design, Engineering, and Art (IDEA).  IDEA has the same core tenants as SOTA and SAMI: Community, Balance, Thinking, and Empathy.

The ten staff members have been meeting this summer to prepare project-based curriculum around industrial design and engineering that will teach students the content of core subjects.  They’re getting excited to welcome the 126 freshmen that make up the inaugural class.  90% of the freshmen have attended one or more First Look day, designed to help the students in the transition from middle school.

IDEA is located at Park Avenue Elementary School, a building that’s been largely unused since the school closed.  While much of the education is happening within the four walls of Park Avenue, it will not look like a typical school.  IDEA is a collaborative learning environment, where partners will work alongside students in shared spaces.  So far, six business have expressed interest in IDEA:

  • Second Cycle Bike Shop
  • PB And A Designs, a furniture company
  • ANSYS Incorporated, a nationwide engineering and physics modeling software company
  • Oxford Computer Group, a group that provides enterprise Office 365 training
  • VFE Custom, a custom guitar pedal company
  • Bootstraper Studios, a live stream production company 

Many of the spaces at IDEA are “Maker’s Spaces,” geared toward collaboration between students and the community members, and focused on projects and inquiry.  In August the team will install a CNC Machine in the fabrication studio.  Wondergrove Animation is sponsoring an animation studio.  Alchemy Skateboarding is working with the team to design and build skateboard ramps.

We’re so thankful to our donors and community partners that make innovation possible.  We’re excited to see what comes of the community we’re building at IDEA.

We still need a few itmes for our staff lounge - please contact us if you have access to:

  • Refrigerator
  • Microwaves (multiple)
  • Large coffee maker
  • Water dispenser

Molly Hamilton, a fellow 2006 SOTA alum, speaks enthusiastically about her time at SOTA as one where she got freedom to pursue her passions with autonomy and support.  She said the degree of freedom we had as high school students combined with a caring environment– an open campus, teachers that personalize content, mentor group, finding your individual voice and style – has stuck with her into adulthood, maybe more than any specific content she learned.   When I asked her what most resonated with her looking back on high school, she quickly responded, “Our teachers treated us like adults.  The helped us focus on our individual goals and showed us what we could get out of the classes.  But they didn’t let you slide – we got encouragement and prompting to always be our best.”

When I asked her which teachers most impacted her, she laughed, and said, “That’s a hard one!”  She finally was able to narrow her response down to two teachers that helped her find her own voice and style: Terri Placentia (Visual Arts) and Paul Eliot (Instrumental Music).  She said that Terri’s approach to art was super freeing because she meets students where they are. Terri insisted that there’s no “right” way to do art – you don’t have to meet benchmarks to be passing – art is more about how you incorporate elements of design and develop your own style.  Molly notes that Paul helped her enjoy music in a way that was about more than just playing notes.  The way he taught about song structure and lyrics was a new approach for her.  She was already a music fan, but he taught her how to make music herself.

Molly Hamilton, by Conner Peirson '06

Molly Hamilton, by Conner Peirson '06

Molly studied a long list of art disciplines while at SOTA – painting, drawing, photography, film, songwriting, and music- alongside a rigorous science, math, and humanities curriculum.  She notes that having exposure to several disciplines made for good cross-pollination of ideas, and even though she doesn’t use all of those skills any more, following her passions and creating art is a skill she values.  Molly said, “we learned about so many different mediums and styles.  It gave you a lot of options to explore your own interests.  That’s so important to me as an adult because I know how to pursue things that I’m passionate about.”

Immediately after leaving SOTA, those passions took her to New York City to The New School.  She attended for two years and then took some time off to work with her band, Windowspeak, which has gained notoriety for the unique lyrical and musical elements of the music.  Now she’s back in Tacoma and has a B.A. from Savannah College of Art and Design in Interactive Design.  She plans to continue touring with her band but have Tacoma as home base.  Molly says “SOTA let me explore my interests with passion.  You don’t want life without art."