Scenic Beauty, Outdoor Adventure, History, The Arts


Freedoms Run Mission - Trails and Health

19 Apr 2012 3:11 PM | Anonymous

Page Jackson School, Freedom's Run, and a Trail - a Small Community Success

"Health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease." World Health Organization


Page Jackson Elementary celebrates the successful design and building of a 1.5 mile trail, garden, and adjoining boardwalk and wetlands. West Virginia is the number two obese state in the country. A few years ago Page Jackson Elementary School was a school with little focus on the health and wellness of the staff and students.  They had a number of nurses leave year after year.  They needed some motivation and role models. In the kitchen Flo Best kept trying and trying to make positive changes for the staff and students through food.  Then one day along came a new Nurse, Principal Tara Aycock and PE teacher Jay Earl with grand ideas.  The four began working together to get things right for the school. 


They started slowly by incorporating on-site wellness screening for the staff.  Then they added a walking program for the staff.  PTVO bought the school a cart for outdoor recess with jump ropes, balls, and bean bags to play with outside.  They also added $15,000 worth of new equipment to an outdated playground. They created a Wellness Committee with local community leads.  They followed the state policies for nutrition and health to the letter for student’s meals. They informed parents of better ways to celebrate in school with healthy snacks and removed  vending machine foods to our students.  The wellness committee and the school were recently given prestigious distinction as Bronze Level with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Healthier Generations program.  Less than 2% of schools achieve this level.


The Wellness Committee’s mission is to promote and enhance the health and well being of the students and staff of Page Jackson Elementary School by providing coordinated health, mental health and other support services.  Freedom’s Run ( ) was created by the West Virginia University Eastern Education Division to support building fitness trails and gardens at all the elementary schools in the county. Mark Cucuzzella MD, a family doctor and director of the race began looking for the best fit for a first school to focus on.  Page Jackson was the perfect fit.


A successful National Park Service RTCA assistance grant with Anne O’Neill played a huge role in what has transformed a featureless field into 1.5 miles of rolling trail, boulders, a wetlands with boardwalk, ADA accessible areas, and a co-located garden. The project will be complete before the start of school this year at a budget of near 50,000 dollars.  Expert designer Ken Dzaak from Canaan Valley Institute has made this more than a “trail” but a space for place based learning.  The National Conservation Training Center lent their expertise and help for a wetlands.


How was this accomplished without a large funder?  We were innovative and collaborative in our approach and searched for partners who had interest in this mission.  We first wrote an extensive proposal to the West Virginia Board of Education for a Grant Project called Innovation Zones. Our focus was an innovation on wellness focusing on natural outdoor activity and integrated education on healthy food while the children planted and harvested their own garden.  Children would be active, learn, and discover on their own trail and garden. The community and families would connect here too.


We were awarded the grant and from here we branched out further to acquire funding through other grants and contributions:


State of West Virginia and support of Senator John Unger and Community Participation Grant- $35,000

Freedom’s Run/ West Virginia University Eastern Education Division $10,000

WV Schools on the Move $5,000

WV CARDIAC $10,000

Kohls $1,500

Charles Town Council $1,500

Dept of Education- WV Innovation Zone $7,000

Race for Recess- $3,000

USDA Forest Services Job Corps-Harpers Ferry Jobs Corps- 200 in kind hours of building

National Conservation Training Center, USFS (paid for Environmental
Concern, Inc. to create wetland design) - Sarah Hildrbrand- $3,000

National Park Service, Rivers, Trails, Conservation Assistance
(RTCA) program -Anne O'Neill

Fiona Harrison- Master Gardner of Slaynt Vie Farm. Garden Design/Construction and start up plants

Race for Recess- Fundraiser directed by Kathy Skinner

R and L Landscaping- construction of the trail at their cost.

Canaan Valley Institute- Land Manager-Ken Dzaack

Jefferson County School Board- amazing collaborative help in facilitating the project


A special thanks goes to the PJES Wellness Council and Principal, Tara Aycock for setting this goal and making this happen.


This trail will be a hub of activity for a large community void of trails.  The rural roads surrounding the school are not safe for walking and running. Our trail will be accessible for all before and after school hours. The community will maintain the garden in the summer months too and be engaged in ongoing trail maintenance and improvements.


We have become a State and National Model for Michelle Obama’s vision of children getting back into nature to learn about food by getting their hands duty and to prevent obesity through natural outdoor movement. 


247 S. Tamarac Drive Shepherdstown, WV 25443 304.876.9141
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