EVERETT — The children had wondered what was under the big blue tarp in the Whittier Elementary courtyard.
Someone started a rumor it was a statue of Principal Tony Wentworth. He’d been trying to stamp that one out for awhile.
The students had forgotten about the ballot they filled out in the spring, to choose the images to be represented on the school’s new totem pole.
The pole was unveiled Friday at the PTA’s back-to-school barbecue. It combines the mascot, a Whittier Wildcat, with an orca to represent Washington and an eagle for the United States.
“It took a lot of hard work from a lot of people to create this,” Wentworth said.
The pole stands about 5-foot-5. It is carved from locally salvaged Western red cedar, said Tomas Vrba, a classically trained sculptor who lived in Everett until recently. When Vrba learned how much effort the PTA had put into funding a totem, he gave them a great price.
Families helped raise money, too, through a “Moana” night, said Poppy Schenk, 7. She didn’t mind one bit that she’d already seen the movie “about 10 times.”
The barbecue provided an opportunity for everyone to reconnect. They took in the new gardens by Maribeth Halstead and Fred Stephenson. The longtime friends have volunteered the past four years to plant the beds in the courtyard. They maintain much of the landscaping around the school.
The totem is part of a new Northwest rain garden, which also was revealed Friday. It’s another of Halstead’s and Stephenson’s globally themed plantings. Some of Halstead’s siblings, along with her children and grandchildren, attended Whittier. The school is part of her family history, she said.
She picked up gardening to honor her mother, an avid planter who passed in 2012. She saw Vrba’s work at his former shop in Oso and knew she had to connect him with the PTA, of which she was once a member.
The gardens are such a pleasant setting, two mother hummingbirds made their nests there in the spring, despite the hubbub of the nearby playground, she said.
At the barbecue, many of the children still were getting used to the new school year.
For Alvin Smith, so far the first grade at Whittier means “learning about rocks. Every kind,” he said.
Lucia Fisher welcomed the chance to see how the campus is looking. It’s the last year her family will be here, with son Ben in fifth grade. Lucia used to substitute teach here and made friends in that time. Ian, now in eighth grade, is a seasoned alum.
Something is different about Whittier, Ian said.
“It looks a lot crisper,” he said.
Rikki King: 425-339-3449; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @rikkiking.