116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
A group of fourth and fifth grade girls from Cedar River Academy at Taylor Elementary can now add published author to their list of accomplishments.
Over the course of this school year, the students worked together to create a story that would not only be made into a book, but also be translated into a story walk being created in Reed Park, which is connected to the schoolyard of Cedar River Academy at Taylor Elementary, 720 Seventh Ave. SW, Cedar Rapids.
Magnet School Coordinator Liz Callahan said the project was not only a lot of fun, but also very meaningful for the students as they are excited about making an impact on their school and the wider community.
The walking path at Reed Park was existing, but when the idea of adding a story walk to the path came up, Callahan said she was thrilled with the idea and the potential for getting students involved.
“I think there were some great connections made between our students and the community, which is something that we want our students to experience,” Callahan said. “It also allows them to leave their mark here so they are now a part of our school because they've left us this book.”
The story they created, called “The Wild Weather Week,” tells the story of the flood of 2008 and how one family navigates the disaster, particularly by helping others.
“They chose that for the story because it had such a big impact on our school and the community,” said Callahan.
In June 2008, the Cedar River crested at 31.12 feet, surpassing all previous records, flooding downtown Cedar Rapids and spreading into area neighborhoods, including Czech Village and Time Check. It also flooded Taylor Elementary’s neighborhood, with 3 feet of water entering the school.
The students, who weren’t even born when the disaster struck, worked on the book over several months, even meeting with local children’s book author Charlotte Gunnufson to learn more about the elements of writing a compelling story.
“They did a lot of research before they got started writing the story and actually getting their ideas put together,” said Callahan. “It was a great lesson for them in how you go from a bunch of notes to a cohesive story.”
The Cedar Rapids Public Library published the book for the students.
“We're going to have an actual book for the students to take home and to go in our school library and they are just so excited,” said Callahan.
Story panels were created and installed along the path in Reed Park for students and others in the community to enjoy.
The story path opened in conjunction with the newly certified outdoor classroom at Cedar River Academy, another way they are connecting with the magnet school’s theme of sustainability.
The school has been working with the City of Cedar Rapids Parks Department for about 18 months on the redevelopment of Reed Park and Callahan said it has been a great collaboration.
“It's been an incredible partnership because everybody has just been so excited to be involved,” she said. “We've done a lot of work out there in Reed Park and the city just planted eight apple trees. I loved working with this group, because they're so receptive to ideas.”
Callahan said she’s also excited that the city’s Rolling Rec Mobile will be stopping at Reed Park throughout the summer.
The story path will have a rotation of three to four stories throughout the year and the students who created the first story feel very proud of their efforts. While they won’t all be student created stories, Callahan hopes future classes will be able to do similar book writing projects to be featured.
When talking with the students, it’s clear that working together was their favorite part of the process.
“I had fun getting to know my friends’ creativity and getting to know Mrs. Callahan a bit more,” said fifth-grader Reese Olalde.
Fourth-grader Lise Batige agreed. “Cooperating with my friends and learning new things about them was my favorite part,” she said.
They hope that students, and grown-ups alike, who visit the story path and read their story learn several lessons, about helping others, especially when disasters strike.
“I hope they enjoy all the little details we incorporated in the story like the names of past weather reporters, or all the fun pictures,” said fifth-grader Arianna Alexander.
Fourth-grader Emily Brady added, “And I hope they learn that creativity helps you try.”