Washougal Learning Academy, Cowlitz Indian Tribe collaborate on mascot, logo

Online school switches to K-8 format, attracts 100 students for ‘21-22 school year

Contributed photo courtesy Washougal School District Sarah Folden, a member of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe, created the Washougal Learning Academy's new logo with a Coast Salish design style originating from 3,000-year-old relief carvings found in the area.

When the Washougal Learning Academy (WLA) leaders decided to select a school mascot and logo last summer, they wanted the chosen symbol to represent more than the WLA itself. They wanted it to be, in their words, “something special.”

They accomplished their goal by collaborating with a local Native American tribe, forming what they hope to be a long-lasting and positive relationship along the way.

Cowlitz Indian Tribe member Sarah Folden, an Olympia, Washington-based artist, created the WLA “eagle,” which was introduced on the school’s website earlier this year.

“We love it,” Foster, the WLA’s principal, said. “Everybody we’ve shown it to loves it. We’re so excited to be able to show it off.”

Once Foster decided that the second-year online school needed a logo, he reached out to his students and their parents to receive feedback and suggestions. He gave them only one guideline: “In our district we have a lot of Pacific Northwest animals, so let’s kind of keep it in the same vein.”

“We then went through the selection process and ‘Eagles’ was chosen in part because they’re about flying above it all, rugged individualism, seeing far into the distance, and that really resonated with the kids, and that became the No. 1 pick,” Foster said.

After the eagle was selected, school leaders started thinking about ways they could use the new identity to honor the heritage of the area, floating the possibility of partnering with a local Native American tribe.

Foster reached out to the Cowlitz Tribal Council, a Longview-based board of directors that governs the affairs of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe, a group of Southwestern Coast Salish and Sahaptan people living mostly in western Washington. He was directed to council member Suzanne Donaldson, who agreed to meet with him and discuss his ideas in more detail.

“The first thing I told her was, ‘You can absolutely say no,’ because we recognize that people make really bad decisions about other people’s cultures sometimes,” Foster said. “She was under the assumption that we were talking because of the recently passed regulation around using Native American symbols for schools and how you have to get permission from the tribe. I was uninformed and didn’t know that was a thing. Immediately she was like, ‘Oh, you’re doing this because it’s just the right thing to do?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s what we want to do. We want to collaborate. We don’t want to take anything from anybody. We’d love to share.'”

Foster’s intentions were “very refreshing,” according to Donaldson.

“I realized that he was not aware of the role of the law that had changed in the state that requires (schools) to change their (Native American) logos,” she said. “He was just creating a new logo for the academy. He (approached us) because he wanted to. He was really, really great to work with from my perspective. It was a really great experience.”

Donaldson told Foster he should contact Folden, the Cowlitz artist, and ask if she might be willing to create a logo for the school.

“I had seen some of (Folden’s) artwork on social media and thought she’d be a good fit for it,” Donaldson said.

Folden used a Coast Salish design style inspired by 3,000-year-old relief carvings and the school colors of black and purple to create the logo.

“I originally wanted an eagle with the wings spread out high so you’d have a ‘W’ shape with the wings and the head, and she talked to her mentor and consulted (her peers) and said that wouldn’t represent the way that this art would’ve been done,” Foster said. “I said, ‘OK, let’s do it the way it would’ve been done. Let’s make sure (we do it right).’ We wanted to be very specific to that art style and didn’t want to westernize it just for the aesthetic for our school. It needed to be an actual collaboration. She came back with this fantastic vision of this eagle in purple and black, our school colors.”

“I like it. I think it turned out great,” Donaldson said. “The thing that’s really important is that (the WLA honored) a tribal artist. (Foster) did want to do it the right way, and I appreciate that, not only as a tribe member and council member, but as an artist and community member.”

Cowlitz Tribal Council members completed the process by unanimously approving the school’s use of the artwork.

“I think it’s a best-case scenario of what happens when everybody comes to the table with respect and listens as opposed to dictating (the circumstances),” Foster said. “It was just really, really cool to be a part of.”

The Cowlitz Tribal Council has agreed to provide WLA students with tribe-based learning materials during this school year, according to the school’s website.

“We’re always happy to collaborate,” Donaldson said. “We welcome (the opportunity), especially if it’s the right thing to do. Depending on what the needs are, we’re always happy to have conversations.”

Online K-8 school coming into its own in 2021-22

The WLA is building on the successful foundation that it established during the 2020-21 school year, according to Foster.

The academy started out as a K-12 school, but switched to a K-8 format for the 2021-22 school year, with Washougal High School providing an online learning program for the district’s high school students. The WLA currently has about 100 students, according to Foster, whose staff includes three teachers and one paraeducator.

“Year one was about establishing processes,” Foster said. “We described last year as ‘putting the plane together as you fly it.’ We were getting everything set up as we (went along). This year has been about the celebration of what worked. We’re fine-tuning things and really making sure we’re doing everything we can to support all of the different learner types that we have. We were reflective at the end of last year and the beginning of this year, saying, ‘What did we knock out of the park? What can we still fix?’ And then we went back to our families again and said, ‘This is where we think we are. Where do you think we are? Where do students think we are? What else do you need?’ And we try to make sure every step of that process is inclusive.”

WLA students receive an internet-capable device; learning materials; access to consulting and academic support; suggested daily schedules; academic objectives; opportunities to complete project-based lessons in a variety of subjects; one hour per week of dedicated time with a certified teacher; monthly progress updates; access to district sports teams, clubs and other activities; and optional electives.

Students can choose to enroll on a full-time basis or take some classes through the WLA and others at an in-person school; set their own learning pace; and take advantage of schedule flexibility to fit their learning into their daily lives, Foster said.

“WLA is whatever students need it to be,” he said. “It is as much or as little as students need it to be to meet their individual learning goals. We’ve had students who’ve come to us because of concerns about COVID. We’ve had students who are experiencing challenges with mental health or physical health. We’ve had students who want to learn faster or more deliberately and slow down. Because there are so many ways that our students approach us, there’s just no one-size-fits-all.”