Dr. Shannon Grimsley
Rappahannock County Schools support the School Connector Trails project wholeheartedly and enthusiastically. The School Board signed a resolution last September in support of the project, understanding that there was still much to do after grant funds were awarded.
The school system has in its comprehensive plan as Goal #5 to promote a culture of health and wellness. This is where Commit to Be Fit has made great strides in educating our students, staff, and community about the importance of health and wellness. Rappahannock is at risk as a rural community for dangerous health related risk factors due to obesity. Lack of county-level, low-cost public recreation has been found to have a significant impact on obesity in rural areas, despite the increased availability of outdoor natural amenities (Edwards, et al., 2011). In a Robert Wood Johnson study, Rapp was ranked 80th out of 95 counties in Virginia regarding access to health and wellness related resources. Exactly 26.47 percent of our county residents have a BMI of 30 or greater, which is the national standard for obesity.
The call to action was one taken on by the schools in the development of the Commit to Be Fit program in order to be of service to the community as well as inspire healthy role models for our youth. We remain committed to this task of helping our community be healthier, and the Connector Trail helps us with that mission.
The schools have been actively and diligently working on school safety plans. Many previous school board members and superintendents have discussed the feasibility of working to connect the schools in a safe way in order to allow for more options for safe evacuation routes and additional emergency response plans. Unfortunately, the opportunity never came to be able to fund a project of that magnitude. There was a grant team several years ago that tried to connect a safe walkway from 211 to the elementary school, but the effort was not funded. Our charge in emergency situations is to work with emergency personnel to yes, first neutralize the threat, but also to properly account for and reunite parents with their children as expediently as possible. This kind of a trail can be a game changer when planning for emergencies, and one that we have been severely lacking from some of our previous safety audits.
We envision a great learning opportunity to promote outdoor service learning and career training with this trail project. The landscape of K-12 education has changed, mandating we equip our students to be life ready. A large part of that is in adopting healthy behaviors to lead a happy, healthy life, but also to be equipped with workplace readiness skills and civic-mindedness. I can already see our horticulture class adopting a section of the trail to tend to beautifying the gardens, and the art classes adorning sections of the trail with student-designed murals, as well as our SCA, LEO Club, and National Honor Society working on their service hours cleaning and pruning areas of the trail. Students interested in careers in parks and recreational or engineering could perhaps be a part of the discussion as the project unfolds. This is the type of hands on learning in exactly what the Profile of a Graduate state initiative is calling for.
I want to say that I appreciate all the time and effort spent on this project on both sides of the argument. There are very legitimate concerns that have been brought up and I do agree that they should be addressed. It is very smart, responsible county leadership that will ensure that parameters are set up before a project like this breaks ground. I think this was a general expectation that, if awarded, then these MOUs and agreements would need to be in place. I appreciate Mr. [Garrey] Curry working from an objective standpoint to ensure that safeguards are in place in order for a project like this to work. I trust his expertise and appreciate it as a taxpayer as well.
Thank you for your consideration of this project, and I hope that you will consider health and wellness initiatives in your own comprehensive plan moving forward. Let us know how we can help!
— The writer is Superintendent of Rappahannock County Public Schools. Dr. Grimsley issued this statement at this month’s Board of Supervisors’ meeting.