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Crossing the Country Again: From Railroads to Rail-Trails

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On May 13, two groups of exceptional athletes set off from opposite coasts of the United States, headed for a June 3 meeting in St. Louis, Missouri. The 100 men, women, and children represent the diversity of race, religion, age, gender, and ability that is the face of the United States today. This week, Education World invites you to join their adventure.

On May 13, 2000, two groups of exceptional athletes set off from opposite coasts of the United States, headed for a June 3 meeting in St. Louis, Missouri. The men, women, and children, traveling west from Boston and east from San Francisco, are participating in Face of America, a 22-day journey across the United States. The participants share a single destination, embrace a common set of goals, and represent a diversity of race, religion, age, gender, and ability -- the diversity that is the face of America today.

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During Face of America, a joint project of World T.E.A.M. (The Exceptional Athlete Matters) Sports and the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, athletes from across the United States will travel -- on foot, bicycles, in-line skates, handcycles, wheelchairs, canoes, kayaks, and horseback -- along 3,500 miles of rail-trails (former railroad lines that have been converted to recreational trails) and greenways. Each day of the journey will be different, and the modes of transportation will be determined by both the needs and the abilities of the athletes and the particular route they are traveling. "Not all our athletes have disabilities," Mike Savicki of World T.E.A.M. Sports, told Education World, "but they are all exceptional in their own way."

The adventure, according to Savicki, promotes three main themes:

  • Health and fitness: All Americans, with and without disabilities, should make becoming healthy and fit a priority.
  • Diversity: Working together and celebrating diversity will make our nation stronger.
  • Natural resources: America's rail-trails, which provide outdoor recreation and alternative transportation for all Americans, must be restored and preserved.

RAIL-TRAILS ACROSS AMERICA


Part of the project's purpose is to call attention to America's rail-trails and to make people aware of their value as safe, alternative transportation routes. Most of the cross-country travel during Face of America will take place along rail-trails.

"Rail-trails," Page Crosland of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy told Education World, "are usually level, paved, and safely off-road. They provide a perfect alternative transportation system for people with and without disabilities." The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, which currently oversees about 11,000 miles of rail-trails in the United States, hopes to create a coast-to-coast off-road rail-trail system within the next ten years. "We want everyone -- whether [he or she has] a disability or not -- to be able to ride across America," Crosland said.

The athletes' journey across the United States will also include a number of Millennium Trails marker ceremonies, in which the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy will present official trail markers to some of the nation's 20 National Millennium Trails, 50 Millennium Legacy (state) Trails, and thousands of Community Millennium Trails. Millennium Trails is a partnership among the White House Millennium Council, the U.S. Department of Transportation, and the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. "Its mission," according to Crosland, "is to recognize, promote, and support trails that preserve open spaces, interpret history and culture, and enhance recreation and tourism." Face of America joins that effort by publicizing the use of rail-trails, greenways, historic trails, recreational trails, and waterways, to stimulate the development of new trails that will further connect people to the country and to one another.

THE EDUCATIONAL COMPONENT

Educational Programs and Outreach are also important elements of Face of America, World T.E.A.M.'s Savicki told Education World. His group is involved in a number of projects with state and local groups and organizations to develop outreach programs for promoting health and physical fitness. The group is also conducting public awareness events to promote the protection and development of rail-trails and coordinating school visits in which Face of America team members discuss with students the program's themes and messages.

The Face of America Web site features suggested readings and links about physical fitness, diversity, and outdoor recreation, as well as downloadable questions and activities to help K-12 teachers design a curriculum program related to the program's themes. Students can also communicate with the athletes by e-mail, share their thoughts on a message board, or participate in live chats. And, of course, they can utilize their geography and history lessons as they Follow and Track the Team's Progress!

The group's main educational thrust, however, is in the area of diversity. Students across the country are invited to participate in An Essay Campaign About America ... for America, in which they are asked to answer these questions:

  • How, as a nation of diverse faces, can we also be a nation with a united spirit?
  • What suggestions and/or recommendations do you have for ways in which your school or community can contribute to the celebration of diversity?
  • What contributions could you or your friends make personally?
Students who enter the contest will be eligible for a number of prizes, including bikes, gift certificates, and team jerseys. Next fall, the essays will be compiled into a book to be edited by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Dr. Robert Coles.

Face of America, through its essay contest, sports activities, educational resources, and outreach programs, said Savicki, "builds communities by teaching men and women of all ages, races, and abilities about their own potential and by providing them with the opportunity to interact with one another."

Why not take your students along for the ride?

Article by Linda Starr
Education World®
Copyright © 2000 Education World

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05/18/2000