SNOHOMISH — An old walnut tree watched over Snohomish High School’s campus for more than 70 years.
It likely was there during World War II when bus routes and field trips were cut due to gas rationing. Teachers instructed classes in aircraft construction and sheet metal work to meet needs during the war.
The tree was around in the 1960s when the school launched an education program designed to help students with special needs.
In 2002, it stood at the entrance of an empty campus waiting to welcome students. A teachers’ strike had delayed the start of classes for several weeks.
The tree eventually grew sick and was chopped down in August. Students can imagine it will be around for another 70 years, although in a different form. They have handpicked and hauled sections of the tree into the wood shop. There, they are turning walnut into furniture that will be sold. The money raised could help other students.
About a half-dozen young women donned plastic safety goggles, white masks and gloves. They’re building two tables from the salvaged wood.
The furniture is slated to be auctioned off Saturday at the Snohomish Education Foundation’s annual fundraiser. Proceeds are earmarked for higher education and career-building scholarships, as well as classroom and district-wide grants. Last year, the foundation raised $204,000.
“We weren’t quite sure what would come of it,” said Matt Johnson, the teacher leading the project.
He hadn’t worked with wood much before. His specialty is in aerospace machining.
However, the teacher saw a learning opportunity for both himself and his students.
Adrianna Wheeler, 17, hopes to be an underwater welder one day.
She enrolled in Johnson’s manufacturing class where she’s learning the basics. Their next project entails shaping roses out of steel. They use flame to color the petals a dark blue. One of Wheeler’s classmates plans to ask a special someone to a school dance with a dozen steel roses.
Despite Natalie Ream’s busy senior-year schedule, she meets the rest of the girls after school to work on the tables. She liked the idea of making something that would benefit fellow students.
In the past, the fundraiser helped teachers purchase classroom computers and supplies to build outdoor gardens. Glacier Peak High School now has a 3D printer.
Ream, who hopes to study renewable energy in college, found the project practical.
“A tree that has to come down, use it for something good,” Ream said. “If you can get everything out of it that you can, why not?”
She has been taking shop classes since her freshman year. It is not uncommon for her to be one of the only, if not the only, girl in the classroom.
That isn’t the case with Johnson’s project.
“This is not just a guy thing,” Ream said.
One afternoon the young women huddled around a long slab of dark wood with light-colored, uneven edges. They filled cracks in the grain with a gluey mixture and sanded the surface until it was smooth. They didn’t mind the sawdust on their jeans.
“When we have a group of hard-working girls, it all turns out well,” Wheeler said.
Sophia Walker, 17, looked at the wood that now has a shiny finish. She was surprised by how much work they completed in a short time. It usually takes longer to get through projects in class, she said.
“I blame it on the boys,” Wheeler joked.
Caitlin Tompkins: 425-339-3192; email@example.com.