The Battlefield Elementary School first-graders were too excited to listen to their teacher’s request to walk.
They raced ahead of the grown-ups to the next station on the StoryWalk, where two eighth-graders from Battlefield Middle School next door were waiting to read them the next page of the picture book “What Do You Do With an Idea?” by Kobi Yamada.
The StoryWalk, which was unveiled Wednesday, runs through the athletic fields between the two schools in Spotsylvania County. It’s a three-quarter mile trail with 16 stations, each presenting a laminated page from one picture book, along with discussion questions and activity suggestions related to the story.
“The whole idea is to promote literacy and an active lifestyle,” said Jackie Durr, the eighth-grade teacher at Battlefield Middle who developed the StoryWalk along with Battlefield Elementary librarian Stacy Hammer.
Their project was funded by an IDEA—an acronym for Innovatively Developed Educational Activity—grant from the Spotsylvania Education Foundation, a nonprofit that supports teachers and students in Spotsylvania County Public Schools.
The foundation has been around for many years, but has been trying to step up its outreach and visibility in the past year, board member Gretchen Rusden said.
SEF awards IDEA grants of up to $2,000 each fall to school division employees who present “promising ideas for achieving the division’s curricular goals, strengthening students’ personal development, and/or encouraging links with the community,” according to the website.
“We are taking ideas teachers have and bringing them to fruition,” Rusden said.
The foundation also awards SEED—or Spotsylvania Endowment for Educational Development—grants of up to $500 to school employees for professional growth opportunities. In addition, the foundation presents awards for teacher of the year and sponsors fundraisers to support Spotsylvania County Public Schools.
“We’re like a PTA for the division,” Rusden said.
Karen Ehrhard, SEF’s treasurer, said the foundation awarded Durr and Hammer the maximum amount of $2,000 for StoryWalk because it supports students’ educational and personal development and encourages community participation. She said the foundation is seeking community partners for other grant-worthy endeavors.
The StoryWalk is open to the public. Spotsylvania students can come back in the evenings with their parents to explore the book and families from other area school divisions are also welcome.
“It fits all our hopes and dreams for what the IDEA Grant can do,” Ehrhard said. “And how perfect that the first book is ‘What Can You Do With an Idea?’ ”
Durr said her daughter, Haley, a first-grader at Battlefield Elementary, inspired her to seek funding for a StoryWalk in Spotsylvania after the two discovered one in a park in North Carolina during a family trip. Haley loved it and asked her mom if they could make one at home.
Durr discussed the idea with Hammer, the Battlefield Elementary librarian, with whom she had partnered on programs before.
“I thought it was such a great idea,” Hammer said. “I love that it continues to support our relationship [between the two schools]. It’s something that big kids and little kids love. It allows them to experience stories and books in a whole new way. They can move and play—and come back in the evening with their parents.”
Durr said they plan to change the StoryWalk book six or seven times a year. Sometimes the book will support a monthly theme, such as Black History Month, and sometimes it will explore a certain topic, such as mindfulness.
“We have about 1,000 ideas,” she said.
The StoryWalk project was created in Montpelier, Vt., in 2007 by Anne Ferguson, a chronic disease prevention specialist who partnered with a local library to develop the concept. Since then, StoryWalk has spread to all 50 states and 12 foreign countries.
Spotsylvania’s StoryWalk is not the first in Virginia—there’s one in Augusta County, as well as Harrisonburg and Christiansburg—but it is the first in the Fredericksburg area.
“This is such an innovative idea our teachers have put together,” said Spotsylvania School Board member Dawn Shelley, who attended the StoryWalk ribbon-cutting Wednesday, “and it supports the entire community.”