SPRINGDALE -- A new story walk at Murphy Park is designed to encourage kids to read and spend more time outdoors being active.
The walk, which features the pages of a book mounted on wooden signs spread throughout the park, was unveiled Friday to a group of cheering third-graders from Westwood Elementary School.
The project is a result of a partnership between Springdale Public Schools Education Accelerated by Service and Technology (EAST) programs at Tyson Middle, Southwest Junior High and Springdale High schools; the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences; and the Springdale Parks and Recreation Department.
Tyson Middle School seventh-grade EAST students Miranda Keen, Evelyn Campuzano and Gabe Bentley came up with the concept for the story walk while brainstorming ideas to tackle the problems of childhood obesity and low reading rates, they said.
"We decided to kill two birds with one stone and use the story walk to get people outside and walking around and upping their reading level," Miranda said.
The more advanced technology becomes, the more time people spend indoors, Gabe said. He noted he has spent a lot of time in his room watching YouTube videos. Working on the project has made him more aware of the issue and led him to encourage others to spend more time outside as well.
"To be honest, there's nothing more beautiful than the outside world," he said.
The students began researching the project in August, before presenting their idea to the city and university to seek funding, said Brittany Berry, EAST facilitator at Tyson Middle School.
The story walk includes 16 signposts spread about 40 feet apart. Each wooden sign holds a spread of two pages from a book, Berry said. Books will be changed out monthly and will cater to children in kindergarten through third grade, she said.
About 40 EAST students were involved in the project, Berry said. Students from Springdale High School will help maintain the signs, and students from Southwest Junior High are helping create spreads to be rotated, she said.
Berry said the project taught her students time management, organization, communications skills, reading and writing, as well as, how to teach others, prepare a budget, make professional presentations and bring in professional partners.
EAST is a class in which students use a variety of technologies to solve a problem in their community, Berry said. Seeing their projects come to life in the community is transformational as they build real-world skills, she said.
Parks Superintendent Zack Walls said the city was excited to partner with the EAST program for the project. It will be the first of its kind in this part of the state, he said.
The Parks Department already had many of the materials for the story walk, and the whole project cost under $2,000, including labor, he said.
"Anytime we can partner with the school system to improve the park and create a new opportunity, it helps us as well as the community," Walls said.
UAMS is always looking for ways to collaborate and keep the community physically active and to create a better state of health, said Katie McCraney, UAMS project manager.
"The story walk is a great opportunity to get the community engaged at all ages while promoting physical activity," she said.