Strong Start maps expansion of their literacy programs

Last year I worked with Strong Start, a charitable organization started in Waterloo nearly 20 years ago that helps children learn to read. They’ve always wanted a large map of Ontario in their office to track their program locations and plan expansion across the province. The map would help them quickly see which school districts border each other so their training teams can support multiple adjacent regions. They weren’t able to find an existing map to suit their needs, so they contacted me.

In our phone consultation I learned about their Letters, Sounds and Words program, which pairs children with trained volunteers who work with them one-on-one in schools. The map needed to show locations where the program is currently delivered, all public and Catholic school districts in Ontario, county/municipality borders, and major towns and cities.

The main focus of the map is the school districts, with different colours representing Catholic and public boards and schools, and independent schools. Many public and Catholic school board districts overlap and can span multiple counties. So there would be complex overlapping data, along with the corresponding labels. Some areas with a higher population density might require inset maps to zoom into those cluttered areas.

Additionally, Strong Start wanted an index grid with a list of schools and school boards and their grid locations, and their organization and program logos. They provided me with a list of schools and I downloaded a provincial dataset of public and Catholic school districts.

I proposed two options: everything on one map of Ontario, or a map of Ontario with a second map of southwest Ontario, so we could zoom in to get more detail. They decided to go with two maps.

I sent a layout draft of map 1 (all of Ontario), and landscape and portrait options for map 2 (southwest Ontario), to show ways we could add a zoomed-in inset of the districts with the most current program locations.

Layout draft - map of Ontario for Strong Start
Layout draft - portrait - southwest Ontario for Strong Start
Layout draft - landscape - southwest Ontario for Strong Start

Layout drafts are usually simple outlines of the area, but for these maps I included more detail – the index list of schools would take up so much space it was important to add it right away to get an idea of how and where it would fit around the map.

After they approved the layouts, I worked on the map of Ontario first to establish the colours and label styles. Because some public and Catholic districts overlap, I decided on offset lines to better see the line colours for each school board type. I added very light grey county borders and labels, and started working on the legend.

detail of Strong Start map showing school districts in southern Ontario
legend from Strong Start map showing symbols for schools and school boards

For the second design draft we changed the colours so the public schools and districts were navy and the Catholic dark red, to match the Pantone colours from Strong Start’s program logo. I also added more cities to each region where there was enough space. I applied these style options to the first design draft of the southwest Ontario map.

Draft 1 of southwest Ontario map for Strong Start

For the next set of design drafts, I added the organization and program logos that Strong Start sent me. We removed the index list of all schools from the Ontario map and replaced it with a list of current school boards and independent schools. Because Strong Start is expanding into new districts it didn’t make sense to have an inset map of just a few districts, so we removed that and enlarged the southwest Ontario map. We also added shading to indicate current program delivery districts to both maps, and moved the school index around now that we had more space without the inset. And we switched the school district colours.

Ontario map of Strong Start program locations
Southwest Ontario map of Strong Start program locations

The final maps had minor tweaks for the shading of current program delivery districts, and position of logos and legend. I delivered the map to Strong Start in digital format to use in presentations. There may be a few minor changes with new program locations in the fall before getting the large posters printed for their offices.

Strong Start has a few literacy programs for children, and multiple options for supporting their organization in its important work.

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