Students launch Elkader Story Walk

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Central Clayton County BEST students Leah Reinhart and Joel Thiese lay out the pages for Green Eggs and Ham, the first book featured on the Elkader Story Walk, which debuts this week in the windows of local businesses.

By Willis Patenaude, Times-Register


The past year has been a successful one for Central’s Clayton County BEST students, with projects like Nook in the Know, Elkader’s hanging metal banners and the recent installation of fishing pole holders in spots along the Turkey River. Those efforts led to the BEST students receiving multiple awards during the 2022 Elkader Community Awards Banquet, including the Community Improvement Award and Innovator Award. 


Not ones to rest on the laurels of past success and always in search of the next community improvement project, BEST students IJ Hubbard, Leah Reinhart and Joel Thiese return this week with what’s being called the Elkader Story Walk. 


The Story Walk is an effort to get families walking around Elkader, but doing it in a fun and educational way through walking a designated route and stopping by participating businesses to read a children’s book in the process. 


It is an idea the students decided to undertake after BEST facilitator and Central teacher Ann Gritzner saw it in nearby towns like Guttenberg. 


The Story Walk was comprised of several facets before it was finally ready for public consumption, like what book would kick off the event, which businesses would be involved, how the pages would be displayed and coordinating the walking route. 


One of the first things on the agenda was picking the first book. For this, Hubbard said the group was looking for something that is generally liked by most parents and young kids, as well as something that would be easy to read and that the students had access to. They decided on Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss, not just for the aforementioned reasons, but because opening week for the hanging coincides with Seuss’s birthday, which is on March 2. 


Another portion of the project involved getting businesses to participate. The pages are going to be hung in the front windows, highly visible to shoppers and others walking down main sidewalks. Hubbard and Thiese started with a list of businesses and, over the span of three days of going door to door and explaining the project, they ended up with 22 businesses willing to participate. That includes Fennellys’ Irish Pub, GEAR Elkader, The Brim, Birdie’s and, of course, the Elkader Library, where the walk will start. 


The library is also where a map of the route can be found, though the use of a QR code on all the pages will provide the map and list of businesses participating as well, should someone spot the pages at a business not fully aware of it. 


According to Elkader Library Director Lisa Pope, the library chose to get involved because the project promotes reading as well as community. 


“Students who want to promote reading is a worthwhile project for the library to be involved in,” Pope said. 


Once businesses were found, the next step was creating the template for the pages and laying the pages out. This is where Reinhart made the largest contribution, using InDesign. Initially, the template did not work out due to measurements being off—the pages didn’t fit correctly. Through a process of trial and error, Reinhart created the current template to coordinate with the Green Eggs and Ham theme and colors. It is expected the template colors and measurements will change depending on which books are chosen in the future. 


This facet of the project prompted some questions, such as where the students would get the books, especially since they’re ultimately being de-constructed, with the pages placed on a template and laminated. According to Hubbard, who supplied the Green Eggs and Ham book from her own collection, the books are expected to come from personal collections or through donations to the project. 


The next step was organizing the pages and creating the route, which starts at the library and mostly runs down Main Street before looping around on Bridge and First streets. It eventually turns right down Cedar Street, where it ends at GEAR. 


Each business is expected to have at least two pages of the book displayed in the window, but some requested more. 


One thing that was initially overlooked by the students was how to track the success and engagement of the walk, resulting in some additions. That included “working on a way to track hits to the website and possibly a survey,” according to Gritzner. Otherwise, the project will rely on basic word of mouth and public engagement with the story pages throughout the month. 


While this book is the first in the project, Hubbard anticipates the Story Walk will be a monthly event. The book and theme will change, even during the summer and after she graduates this year, which will leave the fate of the walk in the hands of current and future BEST students. Reinhart stated she would take over the duties if the community and business response reflects a continued desire to participate. 


This has put a tremendous amount of pressure on the opening month’s Story Walk, which has caused delays in getting it out, but it will finally debut this week. The BEST students hope it provides an outlet for exercise, reading and learning, as well as a fun family adventure around downtown Elkader.

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