It was so easy to travel back and forth between Billings and Denver without ever realizing there was an exceptional, in-need small public school tucked away in Wyola, Montana. I became familiar with it when art teacher Maggie Yellowtail asked me to bring my STEM+ART based kite building program to Wyola Public School in 2014.
The school, located on the Crow reservation, was founded in 1955 when Crow tribe members decided they would not allow their children to be forced into boarding schools anymore. Funding was gathered and the school built for 55 children has been open continually since then. Yearly attendance varies between 80 and 110 children. A dedicated staff works hard to educate these Crow and Northern Cheyenne children that experience much grief in their young lives. The school is the safe spot so often, where joy, learning, food and connection fill challenging lives. Meth, murder, suicide and prison are all around them. All the teachers are counselors. And art and culture were taught from rolling carts.
Wyola School is run by the local school board, not the Crow tribe. My numerous visits familiarized me with the children and staff, and we had many wonderful kite flying days together. I became aware that the school was in desperate need of more space. Space for art lessons and materials, space for culture programs and historical objects, space for community gatherings and board meetings and dancing and feeding the people.
In 1999 SkyWindWorld, Inc. was founded as an educational 501(c)3 non-profit. One of my donors, Ryan Willett, was very curious about my Wyola experiences and offered a substantial donation towards some purpose that would benefit the children in Wyola. After discussion with Bill and Maggie Yellowtail, Janice Wilson and the school principal, my suggestion of building a school annex focusing on art, culture and a community room was accepted in April of 2017. When Ryan was informed of the great need, he immediately tripled his donation and suggested I get it matched.
The First Interstate Bank family, the Scott's, have been personal friends for 45 years. When Jim Scott was told what our plans were, he immediately agreed to match Ryan's pledge. Jim had been giving smaller donations to Wyola for years and was looking for a more substantial way to assist the community. Both Ryan and Jim thought the best way to move forward would be to contract with the Billings Community Foundation as our fiscal partner. After meeting with BCF officials, our project was approved. Bill Yellowtail and I were co-chairs of the project and we set an aggressive timetable of one year for fundraising and completion of the building.
The extended Scott family members all gave donations and each time, Ryan Willett matched their donation. In the end we raised over $300,000 in donations and construction began.
Since a large unused 40' x 80' concrete pad was already in place on the school grounds, we decided to have Pierce Homes construct a modular, 36' x 75' building for that location. Three 36' x 25' connected rooms now adequately house over one hundred users per day. Maggie has a wonderful art room with storage, display space, a sink and functional tables that all grades use continually from morning to night. Janice Wilson teaches culture and history with displays of artifacts and drums, hides and photographs everywhere. And in the center is a community and elder area that includes a full kitchen and two public bathrooms.
Six Bernina sewing machines were purchased and all the 6-8th graders now know how to sew. The girls have made MMIW red ribbon skirts and the boys make bags and pillowcases and straps. They all are learning to sew ripstop nylon, making better kites.
The WACCC building is fully paid for and we have about $50,000 left in our account for further improvements to the school. Recently another sidewalk was poured, and six benches placed on a concrete semi-circle, allowing a place for outdoor classes and just hanging out.