Learning Lessons: StoryWalk Fitness Trail
Voice: July 2015
This story is part of a regular series, "Learning Lessons: Great ideas, Great schools,'' that features educators who are doing great things or conducting great programs in Pennsylvania's public schools.
For students at West Hills Primary School in the Armstrong School District, reading has received an active boost.
Thanks to the StoryWalk Fitness Trail, students at the western Pennsylvania school can enjoy a book while participating in physical activity.
The trail was the vision of Devin Lorigan, health and wellness coordinator for the Armstrong School District, and health and physical education teacher at West Hills.
The trail consists of 10 posts spaced apart to create a pathway in a vast grassy area in the front of the school. Each post is made of a Plexiglas-covered sign, with a page of a book on one side and an exercise on the other. Each sign is attached to a PVC-pipe post that is placed in a cement insert in the ground. The posts are removable so the trail can move inside and be used year-round.
"The exciting part about these being constructed the way they are is that parents and their kids can use them in the evenings and during the weekend. They are weather resistant, to a certain extent, allowing them to stay out for an extended period of time," Lorigan said.
The project became a cross-curricular initiative, with students from the high school Technology Education Department developing a prototype for trail markers, as well as assembling and installing the trail. Materials were purchased through funds from a Physical Education Program grant.
Bonus learning experience
Lorigan changes the stories approximately every two weeks. When teachers bring their students to the StoryWalk Fitness Trail, they read a book page, complete the exercise on the sign, and then walk, jog, or skip to the next post with the next page of the story.
"The walk is wonderful because it combines reading with activity, which is great for those kinesthetic learners," said reading specialist Jamie Transue. "Devin (Lorigan) will email the title of the book when she puts it out, so we are able to build prior knowledge or do post-reading activities with the book after the story walk."
Many students see the StoryWalk Fitness Trail as bonus free time, but they are actually actively learning, said Gina Smith, a second-grade teacher.
"Kids are excited to learn because they are outside," she said. "My students love it."
Teachers continue the program even after kids go back inside.
"My students enjoy talking about the story when they return to the classroom, which is great for recall and comprehension," Transue said.
Lorigan has received positive feedback from teachers, students, and families since implementing the StoryWalk Fitness Trail. "Parents and grandparents have used the trail in the evening and on weekends, and have said what fun it was for the whole family," she said.
Rewards outweigh challenges
A major challenge with the StoryWalk Fitness Trail is time.
While many teachers want to incorporate the activity into their busy days, it can be difficult to find time in the schedule. It takes some creativity to remedy the problem.
"Some of the teachers on recess duty will take the children on the trail," said First-Grade Teacher Kathy O'Donnell.
Lorigan also tries to match the book topics to the lessons teachers are discussing in their classrooms to give the StoryWalk Fitness Trail even more meaning.
Another difficulty can be the weather, but the portable nature of the trail has remedied that challenge. With the trail available outside of school hours as well, rainy school days mean that families can visit in the evenings or on weekends, with siblings benefiting from the activity as well.
For Lorigan, the assembly of books has proven challenging. Because most books are more than 10 pages, she reconfigures stories to fit on the 10-page trail.
In addition, she said it can be difficult to find books targeted to the age group served by her school, kindergarten through third grade. When she sends an email alerting teachers that a new story is available, she will provide them with the targeted age group for the story as well.
Despite the challenges, Lorigan finds the new program extremely rewarding.
"It has been so fun working together with the technology department and creating such an innovative idea for our students," she said.
The StoryWalk Fitness Trail at West Hills Primary School concluded its first year with the end of the 2014-15 school year. There are plans to broaden coverage for the current stations and to expand existing trails at other schools in the district.
"The story walk is a very positive learning experience," Smith said. "We have so many ideas to continue building this fun, educational, and active learning experience."
Lorigan hopes recruiting students at the high school to assist with book assembly will take some of the time-consuming burden off her and give the students great experience formatting the reading stations and helping out their younger peers. She also looks to use the trails in the future for additional educational needs, such as PSSA preparation, map concepts, vocabulary, and problem-solving.
"This will allow all elementary age groups to utilize the trail, as well as provide different focus topics for the teachers and students throughout the year," she said. "It is such a fun way to incorporate physical activity into your core subjects."