Schoenbar Middle School

Schoenbar Middle School. (KRBD file photo)

Tamales will save a long-planned totem pole project at Schoenbar Middle School if grant funding falls short.

Schoenbar art teacher Angel Williams told the Ketchikan School Board on Wednesday that she’s been planning the totem pole project for more than six years.

“Through the help of Christa Bruce and the Arts Council, we have found a variety of funding, and also an artist that’s really dedicated to the kids and the cause,” she said.

That artist is Tlingit carver Kelly White; and the hoped-for funding includes grants from the Rasmuson Foundation, cruise lines and local businesses.

Williams’ backup plan, though, is tamales. She told the Board that for the past four years, she’s saved the proceeds from her December tamale fundraiser. If need be, she said, she’ll continue to dedicate those proceeds for the totem pole.

“If I can’t secure all the funds that I’m trying for, Mr. White has agreed that I can pay him off over time with my tamale sales,” she said.

The proposed totem pole would be carved by students in the Schoenbar art room, under White’s direction. The designs would be based on student drawings, but, Williams said, also would be culturally appropriate,

The plan also calls for community participation, with times after school and on weekends that the art room would be open for others to come help.

“This project is more than just the kids carving the pole,” Williams said. “It’s a way for the community to come into the classroom. Part of the vision is to get kids bringing their grandparents in, to teach about the culture, to teach about the carving.”

When completed, the pole would be raised outside the school with a traditional News Tileceremony. A school-hosted potlatch would follow.

The overall project is expected to cost nearly $14,000. A grant application requesting $6,000 from Rasmuson was unanimously approved Wednesday by the School Board.

Board members were enthusiastic about the project, and commended Williams for her vision. Board Member Dave Timmerman noted that Williams has worked hard to expand her knowledge of Native art and culture.

“I know how many classes you’ve taken at the Totem Heritage Center,” he said. “I know you’ve done all that for years, and I know how much you pass on to the kids. And I thank you for it.”

Also last night, the School Board unanimously approved contract renewals for non-tenured teachers, as well as a slight wording change to the district’s nutrition policy. That change provides an exemption for food sold at fundraising events.

The Board also set its annual planning retreat for June 22 at the Ketchikan High School library.

The next regular Ketchikan School Board meeting is June 8.