Horizon Community Goes Ape Over “Ivan”

It’s not every day you find a gorilla roaming the halls of Horizon Elementary (or any elementary, for that matter). But ask any Horizon student, parent, or staff member and they’ll tell you they’re going bananas over Ivan the Silverback Gorilla.

Ivan isn’t a real gorilla, but rather the main character in the book “The One and Only Ivan.” And the reason every student, staff member, and parent knows about Ivan is because the

Horizon principal Lindsey Cornwell holds a copy of the book "The One and Only Ivan."

Horizon principal Lindsey Cornwell holds a copy of the book “The One and Only Ivan” at the all-school kickoff in early April.

entire Horizon community is reading “The One and Only Ivan” together.

This is the first time in Horizon’s history they have done a community reading.

“The Horizon well-being team wanted an activity everyone could do together,” said Lindsey Cornwell, Horizon principal. “Reading a book as a family is a more flexible option [than volunteering or coming to an event] and it reinforces things like family time, literacy, and reading. So every day, 650 kids, their teachers, and all their families are reading the same pages of the same book. It’s one big community.”

For families who may not be able to read together or need assistance with English language proficiency, the school has recordings of each assigned reading passage available online. The next day, students are asked trivia questions about the previous night’s reading. Cornwell said that regardless of how the book is read, it has created a strong sense of community between everyone.

For one Horizon family, their sense of community is a bit different. In 2004, first grader Kathryn Mills was killed in an accident shortly before starting the school year. Today, there is a butterfly garden in her memory at the school and many people throughout the district remember the vibrant little girl, taken too soon. Her family recently donated $2,500 to the Horizon PTO for any needed items and expenses. Coincidentally, that was the amount needed to fund the book purchase.

“It was just meant to be,” said Cornwell. “We saw it as a gift that could impact all kids and that’s what the Mills family wanted. There are messages throughout the book of friendship and resiliency – things that each person can take away from the readings. It’s been a great experience getting to know the Mills family and share our book with them.”

Photo of Ivan the Gorilla playing in a school area.

As part of the all-school kickoff, a video was shown with “Ivan” visiting different areas of Horizon Elementary.

“The One and Only Ivan” has been read throughout the month of April. It all started with a big kickoff party and Ivan roaming the halls, getting kids excited for the book. On April 28, Ivan will send a gift of bananas and apples – some of his favorite snacks – to thank the kids for their participation and celebrate the end of the book.

“We’ve gotten great feedback from parents, students, and teachers,” said Cornwell. “They’re asking if we’ll do it again next year and sharing stories of how reading together as a family has become something they all look forward to. It’s been a great experience to bring everyone together.”