If you went to Smithers Secondary School (SSS) over the past few decades you may remember a program where the school offered students a chance to paint their own ceiling tile which would then hang in the school’s halls.
Now the school is taking down those tiles from the ceiling, but they’ll still have a home within the school.
The Interior News has learned that on Feb. 14 a number of tiles were taken down from two hallways in the school. A number still remained in other hallways.
“There is great disappointment throughout the student and teacher population,” wrote Brianna Lancaster on the online petition page.
Lancaster said that her and a number of other students feel the tiles should stay as they reflect the strong artistic presence within the school of both former and present students.
“Some tiles are very personal in nature while others show one’s imagination,” she said. “All students have thoroughly enjoyed seeing [these] tiles and having them be a part of the environment of their school.”
In an emailed response to The Interior News SSS administration said although a number of tiles had to be removed from the ceiling that they would all be staying in the school. The school said the decision came as a result of extensive renovations scheduled for the school over the next several years.
“In the new building upgrade, there will be new places to showcase student artwork, including art tiles, on a rotational basis,” said SSS principal Jaksun Grice. “We will be in the process over the next few months to brainstorm with our school community and design how this showcase will look and what parameters will be followed around the length of time art is stored and housed in the school.”
As part of that process Grice said the school has created a student committee to help decide what should be done with all the painted tiles.
He said the school shares the view of students who see the art as extremely sentimental to both students past and present.
“Our challenge now is to figure out a new way that showcases student artwork that holds true to student creativity, expression, and a feeling of ownership over their learning space,” said Grice. “Together we will find new solutions to accomplish this.”
Lancaster’s petition was a direct response to a Facebook post made by SSS student Jaden Allen.
Allen said she was home from school the day she first heard about SSS’ plans to take down the tiles.
“My sister actually texted me and said ‘hey this is what they’re doing, they’re ripping down all the tiles and they’re saying it makes the school look better’,” she said.
“I was like, are you kidding me? They’re taking down our artwork, they’re taking down artwork that has been there from 20-something years ago and I just thought that was absolutely crazy.”
Allen said she isn’t the sort of person who likes to stir the pot but felt that the issue was important enough to her that she knew she had to stand up for students past and present.
What happened next though — the post going semi-viral with over 120 shares and Lancaster’s petition reaching just under 1250 signatures online — was something she never could have expected.
The post has been shared widely across the Bulkley Valley and surrounding areas, but it has also reached as far as England where Allen said her grandparents shared it with their friend group.
“I just never expected it to get that big,” she said. “It warms my heart seeing the community come together and be so supportive.”
Allen is currently in Grade 11 at SSS and said she had plans to paint a tile of her own in her final year.
“I always said I’m going to put a tile up there, I’m gonna come up with something super inspirational [that] people are going to see.
“I wanted that for myself and I want that for my sister, I want that for generations to come to this school and if they’re just taking that down then it’s just really upsetting.”
Meanwhile, student opposition to the decision has been ramping up in recent days.
On the afternoon of Feb. 19 a number of SSS students spent their spare time making signs highlighting their opposition to the decision, some with slogans such as “Give us back our art” and “This is not a prison” which have since been posted throughout the school’s hallways.
In the late morning of Feb. 20 SSS administration held a forum to hear from students with concerns about the decision.
A number of students have also tentatively planned a sit-in in the hallways that have had their tiles removed on Feb. 21.
Perry Rath told The Interior News when he first came to SSS some 15 years ago there were only two painted tiles within the entire school.
Almost immediately Rath, who has taught at a number of other schools with similar programs, got the initiative up and running.
He said the program — which gives students between Grade 10 and 12 the chance to paint their own tile — is a chance for students to take a blank piece of the school and make it their canvas.
“Kids saw this as their legacy to leave behind, what message do they want to leave to the next generation,” he said.
“They really have this understanding that this is what they’re leaving behind.”
Rath said he has spoken to many students, parents and alumni who have expressed quite a bit of disappointment and sadness from the decision to remove the tiles.
That includes at least one alumni member who has said they would like to pick up their tile if they do end up being permanently removed.
He said one thing the response to the school’s announcement has highlighted to him is how the ceiling tiles represent such a diverse range of individuals both past and present.
Beyond Lancaster’s petition there were a number of other SSS students, both past and present, who voiced their opposition to the school’s decision.
“I graduated from there in 2002 and some of my friends from those 4 years have their tiles up there,” wrote one individual.
“This was not only one of my favourite projects to do, but it was also one of my favourite things about SSS,” wrote another.
Currently Rath is storing the ceiling tiles that have been taken down in the SSS art room.
He said one thing is for sure: all these works of art have a story behind them.
“Other than those two that were here when I first came I’ve seen every one of these painted,” he said. “I know the story behind basically every one of these paintings.”
As for Allen, her message to the school is that this problem isn’t going to simply go away.
“I don’t think anyone plans on giving up until, you know, we feel that [our] message has been heard,” she said.
“I really hope that administration steps up and does what they can.”