Tacoma, Washington is home to a growing number of choice schools that offer personalized learning opportunities for its students, reflecting a trend towards more flexible and diverse educational programs. Tacoma Public Schools has taken a collaborative approach to developing its choice schools, working with teachers, parents, and community members to create schools that reflect the needs and interests of the local community. These learning options offer students unique opportunities to explore their interests and passions in a meaningful and intentional way. 

Most recently, Tacoma Public Schools kicked off the planning and building of the Maritime Skills Center that will serve students across south Puget Sound and expand choice opportunities. With the Port of Tacoma covering nearly 2,500 acres of the area surrounding the school district, it was natural for the Port and the school district to partner and support learners and a healthy maritime workforce. Set to open in 2025, the skills center will four main focus areas:

  • Sustainability
  • Technology & Innovation
  • Transportation & Logistics
  • Skilled & Technical Trades

Choice schools and personalized pathways are a growing trend in education, providing learners with more options and flexibility. These options allow students to choose from a range of programs, from arts-focused schools to science and technology academies, and even schools that focus on social justice and community service.

High School student at SAMI

One such choice school in Tacoma is the Science and Math Institute (SAMi). SAMi is a public high school campus that shares space with the Point Defiance Zoo. The school offers a curriculum focused on science, math, and technology. The school is designed to be project-based, allowing students to take on real-world problems and apply their learning to hands-on projects that often involve place-based approaches that include the zoo and surrounding parks and beaches. 

High school students at SOTA

Another choice school in Tacoma is the Tacoma School of the Arts (SOTA). SOTA is a public high school that provides students with a creative and immersive arts education. The school offers a wide range of programs, from theater and dance to visual arts and music. SOTA’s curriculum is designed to help students develop their artistic talents while also providing them with a strong academic foundation.

The IDEA School focuses on a student-centered education to create a community of learners who are engaged in meaningful, challenging, and collaborative work alongside teachers, adjunct professors, and experts from the field. They provide a variety of programs including pathways around Engineering and Design. These pathways can unpack into areas around circuitry, industrial design, robotics, game design, green architecture, animation, and music production. The key design principle for learning is shaped by project-based learning and the art of prototyping and the process of design thinking. The grading emphasis for this learning environment is on the learning process and the growth captured along the way more than an averaged outcome mark.

Students at IDEA

Tacoma Public Schools provides a second chance program through the Open Doors Youth Re-Engagement Program, called Willie Stewart Academy. This option is for students between 16-21 years of age who have dropped out or are at risk of dropping out of high school. The program offers an individualized approach as an alternative pathway for students to obtain their diplomas. The program provides students with instruction, study skills, career guidance, and social-emotional support as they work towards obtaining a GED certification. They offer wrap-around services to help students from various life circumstances. 

The Jobs 253 program is a specialized initiative catering to Tacoma Public School sophomores and juniors. It provides a comprehensive learning experience by offering 40 hours of job training and experience that will help them develop work readiness skills, such as resume and interview preparation, while also boosting their self-confidence and personal growth.

John Ketler sharing about the history of SAMI with visitors from Bostonia HS, San Diego (Nerel Winter and Travis Lee).

Tacoma Public Schools’ commitment to choice schools is part of a larger effort to rethink urban education. The district is working to provide students with more options and opportunities to succeed, no matter their background or interests. Tacoma Public Schools is leading the way in personalized options for its students, families, and community through ongoing investments in education and innovation. 

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