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North Hall Middle opens wellness trail to community
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North Hall Middle School sixth-graders Dylan Carter, from left, Caden Bales and Melvin Santos push their empty wheelbarrows up the new wellness trail toward the wood chip pile for another load. - photo by NAT GURLEY

If you’re looking for a way to work off that holiday turkey and extra helpings of mashed potatoes, lace up those walking shoes and head to North Hall Middle School.

Thanks to funding from a grant and some old-fashioned elbow grease, the school is now home to a 2-mile community Trojan Wellness Trail, named after the school’s mascot.

“We’ve been doing a lot of wellness,” said coach and school health teacher Debbie Wiley.

“We felt like the one link that we might be missing is community involvement.”

To bring in parents and other community members, a current cross-country trail at the school was cleaned up.

“We thought, let’s incorporate that into a user-friendly community (trail), and make it interactive with some classrooms,” Wiley said.

There are 10 markers on the trail, each with a fitness challenge, a science concept, a language lesson and a math problem.

On the back of each marker is a QR code, a type of barcode smartphone users can scan to bring up more information on their device.

For example, one code may have information on other area trails, while the next code may give tips for stretching.

“The classes are going to take over the responsibility and change them up every couple of months,” Wiley said.

Funding for the project came from a matching Comcast grant for one received last year by the school from the Atlanta Falcons as part of the NFL Play 60 Super School program.

“There were 32 NFL Super Schools, and we were one of them,” Wiley said. “Being one of those schools meant we were eligible to go for a matching grant from Comcast’s Keep Gym in School program. We had so many good things going on ... I said, ‘Hey! We qualify for this.’”

The faculty and staff found out over the summer that they received the grant, meaning they had an additional $10,000 for this wellness project.

The mulch and signage for the trail ate up much of the funding; additionally, Carroll Daniel Construction Co. volunteered some labor and a Bobcat to smooth over the trail.

But it was primarily student and community labor that brought the project to life.

Around 50 parents and more than 200 students lent a hand, either spreading mulch, installing the signs or clearing some of the more densely wooded areas.

Sixth-grader Alexandria Bryant was one of those students, pushing wheelbarrows of mulch back and forth.

“This is a learning trail for us so that we can do work sessions down here,” she said. “It’s interactive. There are signs we can use for math, language arts, reading, science, social studies, anything. We can use them all the time.”

The trail is open to the community when school is not in session, so after school hours (while it’s still light), weekends and holidays are fair game.

Pets are allowed on a leash, and owners must clean up after them.

It’s not paved, though mulch and gravel smooth over much of the trail.

There are some portions that are steep and could present a challenge. There is also a bridge over a small stream; while wide and sturdy, there are presently no handrails.

Community involvement was the goal of this trail, and Wiley hopes the lessons she’s teaching her health students can now be more easily shared with the surrounding area.

“We teach (that) to live a life that’s well, you’ve got to be balanced in your physical, your mental and your social health,” she said. “We wanted to bring that out and have the community be a part of it.”

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