PENDLETON — Visitors to Falls Park in Pendleton often have children or grandchildren in tow, either fishing, watching the falls or playing on the playground equipment.
Now those children will have the chance to get a little something extra out of the visit, and it is all thanks to the work of Pendleton Heights High School students who wanted to make a difference in the community.
For a quarter-mile stretch, beginning just east of the Pendleton Historical Museum, people can read a short story recounted on a series of 10 posts along Fall Creek; the story — “Dewey’s Daring Adventure” — is told as one moves along the so-called Reading Railroad. It was dedicated Saturday, June 17, by several of the students and sponsors responsible for the project.
The 2017 Summa Cum Laude graduates of Pendleton Heights put together the project during the past year, incorporating creativity, hard work and technical ingenuity.
Sponsor Lauretta Gray said the students worked on the project as part of the requirement to achieve Summa Cum Laude status.
“We were looking for a Summa project, and I thought this would be a great one,” Gray said. “It’s something that’s academic and creative.”
The story, divided into 10 posts along the path, was written by senior Ciara Ross in her creative writing class, while others in the group worked on cutting the wood required for the display posts as well as helping with installation.
Gray credits industrial arts teacher Brandon Jessie with helping the students learn the woodworking skills needed.
“The kids did the work, and that’s what makes me really proud,” Gray said. “Mr. Jessie showed the kids how to saw, how to mark, and how to cut, and they did it. He showed them how to do it, but they did it. He was invaluable.”
The journey begins with a post that introduces the reader to the author and explains the purpose of the project. One of the students involved said this is a great way to learn while exercising.
“Each railroad stop has a page of the book, and the kids and the families go along and read each page,” MaKenzie McGuire said. “By the end, they’ve read the book. It’s activity and learning.”
In total, about 20 students were involved with this project.
“It took a lot of people and a lot of time,” McGuire said.
Thanks to Brady Alumbaugh, this Reading Railroad has an added feature that similar projects in other parks don’t have. Each page has a QR code, or barcode, that visitors can scan with a smartphone. It connects to Youtube, where people can hear the page read aloud.
“The one in Franklin (Indiana) doesn’t have the sound,” Gray said. “Brady just took it well beyond. He is the one who did the details; he makes the Reading Railroad cards. If someone doesn’t hire him out of college, they’re crazy.”
This project is just the beginning for the Reading Railroad. There are plans to expand the project with future classes.
“In the future, we’re looking for groups to expand it and make it longer,” McGuire said. “We can have more opportunities and different books we can use. We hope to make it a competition for future classes.”
Gray said she hopes to expand the project, not just for Falls Park, but in the other communities of South Madison County.
“We want to make it a community thing,” Gray said. “It can be in Markleville, Ingalls or anywhere in South Madison County, but the park is such a focal point.”
Gray isn’t sure what future projects will look like, but with the best and brightest of future Pendleton Heights classes at work, she knows it will be big.
“I don’t know what we’re going to do, but somewhere in the back of my brain there is some way to augment this,” she said. “It’s a beautiful start; it’s so much more than I thought it could be.”