MSU, city partner to offer new Bozeman Pond Literacy Walk

Wednesday Jun. 9th, 2021

Research shows that literacy and physical activity are both important for kids. A new, free activity at Bozeman Pond Park – a result of a partnership between Montana State University and the city of Bozeman – allows children to simultaneously read and be active.

The Bozeman Pond Literacy Walk at 700 S. Fowler Ave. offers a way for kids and their families, caregivers and friends to be active while reading a children’s book. Permanent, weather-proof displays placed approximately 10 feet apart along a path on the park’s north side each contain a page of a children’s book. Some of the displays also feature artwork from local schoolchildren. Members of the community are invited to visit the path, read the book and enjoy the activity. The displayed book will rotate monthly from roughly mid-April to mid-October each year; the first book is “The Rainbow Fish” by Marcus Pfister.

“We’re so excited about this project,” said Karie Orendorff, assistant professor of health and physical education in the MSU College of Education, Health and Human Development, who led the project. “Our Literacy Walk combines physical activity, literacy and quality time with families and friends. We really hope the community embraces it.”

To kick off the new activity, hundreds of kindergarten through fifth grade students from Hyalite Elementary School toured the Literacy Walk on Monday. MSU students, faculty members and administrators, as well as staff from Hyalite Elementary and the city of Bozeman, led groups of children through the walk and served them ice pops under sunny June skies.

“Who wants to do the reading?” one MSU administrator asked as she led a group of kids through the Literacy Walk.

“Rub your belly and pat your head as you go to the next station,” a leader instructed another group of students.

“Are you swimming like a fish?” another group leader asked a student.

Orendorff and others have been working on the project for more than a year. Orendorff reached out to the city’s Parks and Recreation Department last spring to see about partnering on the project, and she said the idea was met with enthusiasm.

The Literacy Walk is funded by a $5,000 Faculty Excellence Grant from MSU and a matching grant from the city of Bozeman, Orendorff said. The first copies of “The Rainbow Fish” were donated by MSU’s health enhancement major. Orendorff hopes that local businesses will donate future books.

As a former health enhancement teacher, Orendorff had long thought an activity like the Bozeman Pond Literacy Walk would be beneficial for kids.

“As an educator, I 100% believe in literacy,” she said. “Reading – and hopefully a love of reading – is one of the most important skills that our children can have. I really believe that reading is the key to any success in education.”

Orendorff noted that numerous research studies have shown that students who are more active retain more information. Studies also show that active students have fewer behavioral problems and better school attendance and that physical activity helps promote brain stimulation.

In addition, Orendorff said, the Literacy Walk’s kickoff event is also a great opportunity for MSU students who plan to pursue careers as teachers to gain a meaningful experience with kids.

“For my (MSU) students this is an opportunity for them to interact with kids,” she said. “It gives them more hands-on time with students, which is what preservice teachers need.”

Three MSU health enhancement students – Chris Hodapp, Josh Mertz and Haddy Slade – volunteered to lead groups of children through the Literacy Walk on Monday.

“I enjoyed the opportunity to hang out with kids,” said Mertz, a senior from Boise, Idaho. He said he could envision using the activity in the future as a health enhancement teacher.

“This is something you could definitely implement around an elementary school campus,” Mertz said.

Hodapp, a junior from Watkinsville, Georgia, said he jumped at the opportunity to volunteer at the Literacy Walk.

“This is a really great opportunity to work with children in the age groups I’m thinking about teaching,” he said. “It’s also an opportunity to engage with the community.”

Lauren D’Angelo, reading specialist at Hyalite Elementary School, said MSU and the city of Bozeman reached out to her about the Literacy Walk the same week that she was starting to think about Hyalite’s end-of-year reading celebration.

“With the COVID pandemic year that it was, we really wanted to make (the reading celebration) as special as we could for these kids who have worked so hard to learn throughout the year,” D’Angelo said. She said she was pleased with how the project came together.

Throughout the morning, as children moved from one structure displaying a page of the book to the next, D’Angelo said she noticed lots of smiles from the kids and felt their joy at being outside.

“Today has been really great,” she said. “The kids want us to read to them. They look at each page. We know we are creating a love of reading here.”