My Dear Students, Staff, Parents, Honored Guests,
We are people who are surrounded by symbols. Symbols filter into every aspect of our lives. They help us to communicate with each other and to define who we are. They help us to identify products – who does not know what the Golden Arches symbolize? They provide simple and important information, such as the red and white octagon signs found at many roadway intersections; the many and varied symbols used to identify men’s and women’s restrooms, and handicap parking.
Symbols also take on deeper meanings when we move beyond purely informational purposes. The Statue of Liberty stands for liberty and freedom for many around the globe, and there are strong emotional and patriotic ties to our nation’s flag, with the stars representing the 50 states and the stripes the original 13 colonies. But our flag stands for much more: wars for all kinds of freedoms, spilled blood, overcoming conflict and hardship to build this country for our families and our descendents.
Symbols of cultural and religious backgrounds and beliefs touch us deeper still. They tell the story of hundreds of years, perhaps even centuries, of what has become our very core of existence.
Today we celebrate the dedication of a symbol of significant value and importance to us at Wolfle. Today we celebrate the ceremonial installation and dedication of our Story Pole.
Last year we began our journey … or at least one phase of a long journey … with the carving of the Story Pole. We talked about it, designed it, photographed and journaled it’s every step. Students and staff and even families visited the carving shed at Little Boston almost daily to be a part of the old cedar log giving new life and new meaning, unfolding its story at the hands of Master Carvers Jake and Floyd and Ed. And today, it stands proudly before us, symbolizing … what?
On the surface, this pole is a symbol of our family and neighbors, the S’Klallam people, and their relationship with Wolfle Elementary and the North Kitsap School District. It is a symbol of friendship, of mutual respect and mutual responsibility … an agreement to look out for all of our children and to help them to grow up into one people, with unique differences, to be the very best that we can all be. To help each of us climb Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to reach our fullest potential and fulfillment.
That is on the surface. Deep down, this pole stands as a symbol of so much more. It is not merely a symbol of the unity between native and non-native students, families and peoples. It is a symbol … a proud symbol, for all people who come to Wolfle, that we teach not only tolerance, but, rather, acceptance of diversity in all its forms.
I hate to say it, but prejudice and bigotry are alive and well. We have come a long ways, yes, but we have yet to arrive. I would venture to say that everyone here has been a victim of prejudice in some form … maybe because they are native or maybe because they are not. Some feel that children learning to control their behaviors should not be in public schools, while others feel that children who have difficulty learning are slowing down the learning for other children. Children, and even adults, are teased or bullied for the way they talk, the way they walk, or the way they think. Still others do not understand the struggles some families must endure, and criticize them for not helping their children with homework or getting them to school on time.
This pole, this Story Pole … stands proud, tall and powerful … in defiance of this prejudice, this bullying, this demeaning of our fellow human beings. It speaks of a journey, one that is not complete, but a journey moving forward none-the-less. It does not mean that problems do not exist at Wolfle or our community, but it does tell us that such issues are not OK, will not be tolerated, and are not acceptable.
At the same time, this notion of “no tolerance” does not mean we throw out the violators. If that were the case, we would be a very small school indeed, and our streets would not be safe for years to come. No, our goal is not to punish or exile, but to educate them in a caring, learning, respectful environment. Furthermore, our goal is not to solve the problems of prejudice or bullying or intolerance for Wolfle students. Rather, our goal is help students themselves to solve the problems surrounding them at school, at home, in their community, both today and tomorrow and far into the future.
Why? Because learning at Wolfle is not merely about learning to read and write and mathematics. We are preparing our children for a world that is not even created yet – jobs that do not exist – problems that have yet to surface or be realized. Learning at Wolfle is also about getting along with others, working and playing well with peers, helping and supporting and encouraging each other, and learning to accept and see as a real blessing, the wide variety of diversity that walks each day down our halls.
And so, each and every day you walk into this school … each and every day you walk past this Story Pole … remember Wolfle’s story … remember OUR story … remember YOUR story. Look at this pole with pride, and look at your fellow students with pride, too. Remember why you are here … to become the best for the world, rather than the best in the world. Look at this pole every day, and remember.
Ben Degnin, Principal
Delivered at the Story Pole Installation Ceremony on September 25, 2007