By Linda Dillman
Nature and literature will meld seamlessly into a single outdoor experience in Westchester Park in May with the permanent addition of outdoor story stations created by Indian Trail Elementary School students in cooperation with the city of Canal Winchester.
The creation of Canal Winchester’s first Storybook Trail was the brainchild of library media specialist Janie Kantner and instructional coach Alyssa Locker as the result of pivoting an annual literacy event due to the pandemic.
“From the beginning, this has been a collaborative effort between Alyssa and me,” said Kantner. “In our roles as instructional coach and library media specialist, we work a lot together on various literacy projects. For the past 19 years, Indian Trail has hosted a Family Literacy Night in the fall. It was a special night for students, their families and the ITES staff to celebrate the joy of books. When the pandemic hit in the spring of 2020, Alyssa and I realized that our traditional celebration would be impossible for the 2020-21 school year, so we began thinking about possible alternatives.”
Kantner said Locker discovered storybook trails while visiting other parks and Kantner was introduced to the concept at several library conferences. They felt the project might be a nice alternative to the school’s literacy night event because the storybook trail would provide an interactive, yet safe and socially distant way to celebrate and encourage family reading.
They presented their idea to city Public Service Director Matt Peoples and asked if the city would be interested in partnering with the school by providing a location.
“He was enthusiastic about the idea and suggested the newly created nature trail at Westchester park off of Dietz Road,” said Kantner. “It was the perfect place. It is easily accessible to all our Indian Trail families and the public as well.”
Kantner applied on behalf of the school library for a Library Services and Technology Act CARES Act Mini-Grant in August to build the trail and received the $3,000 grant from the Federal Institute for Museum and Library Services, which was awarded through the State Library of Ohio. The grant paid for the entirety of the project. No district funds were used for the trail.
“This covered all materials and labor to create the trail” said Kantner. “The school district’s maintenance department made the trail posts and installed them in April. The actual pages of the storybook will be created by each class at Indian Trail. We hope to have the second grade book completed and installed on the trail around May 8. We will then rotate the first grade and kindergarten books throughout the summer.”
Maintenance workers built and installed 21 wood stands along a trail that winds its way through a grove of trees in Westchester Park. Individual book pages are protected under a plastic cover, along with interactive activities and a QR code that can be scanned to play recordings of children reading the page.
“This has blossomed into something more than we imagined,” said Locker, “and is something for the students, their families and the community as well.”