Fourth grade students preparing for the Virginia Standards of Learning testing in Danville Public Schools will now have a little extra help thanks to a children’s book commissioned by Danville Parks and Recreation and Danville Public Library.
The Recreation Department recently announced the completion of “Dan River Twins,” the exciting tale of otters Danny and Mist who are competing in the Otter Frolics games in and along the banks of the Dan River.
“We know every student in our school system studies the environment and the effects we as humans have on those environments, we wanted to be able to provide the students with a fun way to learn those same lessons and familiarize them with the ecology that makes up our community,” said Bill Sgrinia, Danville Parks and Recreation Department Director.
The tale, penned by author Cyndy Unwin out of Chesapeake, follows the otter siblings and their friends as they compete in Olympic-style games in a race from Schoolfield along the river toward Dan Daniel Memorial Park.
“We didn’t want to focus too much on the river’s past or re-visit the history of the mill,” Sgrinia said. “This whole book is a celebration of one of our most beautiful natural resources and a reminder that we are the stewards of that resource.”
The story ends on a cliffhanger, allowing students the opportunity to finish their story.
“We worked with local teachers from Danville and Pittsylvania County to develop not only the book but a curriculum guide; we want this book to be useful in the classroom to the teachers and enjoyable to the students,” Sgrinia added. “And hopefully, after reading the story and interacting with the characters through the lesson plans, our students will have a new appreciation and explorative interest in our river and our community.”
Woodberry Hills Elementary School Title I Math Coach Amy Baynes, who was involved in the project from the beginning, said the book could render major changes in the way students perceive the community.
“I feel this project has the potential to change our students' views about the river that runs through our city,” Baynes said. “In many of our students’ lifetimes, the only information they have received about the river has been negative. Through this book, its lessons, and possible fieldtrips students may feel like they can have an impact on the river and make a difference in our community. As a person who is passionate about education, river recreation, and this city, I feel very fortunate to have been involved in this project.”
Project manager Jason Bookheimer, Community Recreation Division Director for Danville Parks and Recreation, hopes “Dan River Twins” will be a catalyst for change.
“So many of our students see the river on a daily basis but never interact with it,” he said. “We wanted to provide an opportunity to hopefully get them excited about the river and all of the creatures who call it home.”
Bookheimer, who first started at the recreation department as the outdoor recreation program coordinator, said the continued opportunities the book will provide are endless.
“The book is just the beginning,” he said. “We at the Recreation Department are planning activities and field trips around the characters and locations in the book. It is our intent to continue to support the school system by providing outside-the-classroom learning experiences for our youth while hopefully instilling a passion for outdoor recreation and exploration.”
Danville Public Library Director Joe Zappacosta also touted the progressive nature of the book.
“Any hook that can get children exciting about reading is a win,” Zappacosta said. “A student opening up a book and seeing pictures of places they see on a daily basis and reading a story about their home is a great way to instill a love of reading.”
Zappacosta also looks forward to reading the students’ endings to the story.
The students’ stories, along with digital and downloadable copies of the book and teachers guide can be found on DanRiverTwins.com. The Recreation Department and Library will also post programming and field trip opportunities on the site.
“We have given a book to every fourth grade student in Danville Public Schools,” Zappacosta said. “Unfortunately we couldn’t afford to provide more. However, we want everyone in the community to have access to this resource so everything is available online.”
The project was largely supported by funding from Danville Regional Foundation. A grant from the foundation will allow for three years worth of books being donated to the fourth grade classrooms of Danville Public Schools.
Books will also be available for sale at Danville Welcome Center. Proceeds from the book sales will support the initiative and purchase new books.
The author will be available for a book signing at the Danville Public Library in the spring.
“I appreciate the opportunity to participate in such a creative and exciting grass-roots endeavor,” Unwin said of the project. “I had several opportunities to visit Danville while writing the story. It’s been a true pleasure to experience the hospitality of Danville’s Parks and Recreation Department, Danville Public Library, Danville Regional Foundation and Dan River Basin Association. Danville and the Dan River are in good hands.”
Danville Parks and Recreation wishes to thank Danville Regional Foundation, Danville Public Schools, Pittsylvania County Schools, History United and Dan River Basin Association for their contributions to the project.