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MUNCIE, Ind. (AP) — One by one, students and community members made their way across the wooden arched bridge and onto the winding gravel trail.
It was a crisp Tuesday morning, a blanket of fog still covering the nearby fields. The climbing orange sun glistened on the dew-soaked grass surrounding the trail, the newest addition to Longfellow Elementary School's campus.
This was its official kick off.
"They love the trail," Longfellow Principal Shawn Davis would say of her students after the event. "They feel like it's an opportunity to be free, free with their own thoughts, free to conversate with peers and adults from the community ... to discuss life."
The trail — which measures an eighth of a mile — has now become the basis of the school's new grant-funded fitness initiative.
Students are encouraged to use the trail every Tuesday and Thursday before school as part of a walking club, The Star Press reported (http://tspne.ws/1plS0DA ).
"However, the students like it so well, we are considering increasing the days," Davis said. "The walking trail is an excellent way to start the school day. It gets your blood flowing and your mind open to receive knowledge."
During walking club, students receive health snacks and nutritional tips, Davis said, to "increase their brain power and energy levels."
The trail itself was a few years in the planning and is a true community effort.
The project was first announced in 2011. It was then that Davis, some PTO members and Ball State University immersive learning students set out to find a way to bring the school community together for fun, healthy activities.
This first phase of the project was funded by a $27,000 grant from the Community Foundation of Muncie and Delaware County, with additional support from Ball Brothers Foundation, Whitely Community Council, Muncie Community Schools and Rundell Ernstberger Associates, who came up with the path design.
The community has also been invited to use the trail, according to Pat Clark, a Ball State education professor who was involved in the planning.
"This trail encourages a connection between the community and the school," she said. "Anything you can do to encourage interaction with your neighborhood school is going to be positive."
On Tuesday and Thursdays, students will walk with volunteers from Ball State's Schools within the Context of Community immersive program (students helped write the grants for the project), the Whitely Community, Whitely Community Council, IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital, United Way, local churches and, as Davis puts it, "anyone else that would like to participate."
John Disher of IU Health Ball Memorial, who led a walking club in the Whitely community over the summer, was on hand for the kick off and has invited those walkers to use the trail regularly.
This trail is the first piece in a larger wellness project on the campus that could potentially cover 10 acres.
"As we are able to accrue funding, we plan to expand the trail so that students, families and community members have a safe and inviting place to exercise and spend time together," Davis said.
Information from: The Star Press, http://www.thestarpress.com
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