Kids Heart Challenge

Horace Mann fifth-graders warm up for P.E. class with jump roping during the Kids Heart Challenge. The American Heart Association program is based in both education and fundraising.

Tracy Goldizen | Courier features editor

OTTUMWA — Joss Teed remembers helping set up several years' worth of banners for Jump Rope for Heart for several at James Elementary when he taught there three years ago. For the past couple of weeks, he has been leading his students through the program once again.

However, the program has evolved. Jump Rope for Heart and Hoops for Heart have become the Kids Heart Challenge through the American Heart Association.

“Part of the change in name is you could do more than just jump rope or play basketball to be active and keep your heart healthy,” Teed said.

The program is a combination of education and fundraising. An email to parents describing the program reads, “All students will participate in jump rope, basketball and cardio activities while learning about their hearts during physical education class.”

“We’ve been going over heart facts, so they’re learning about their hearts,” Teed said. Some of those lessons have been on ways to avoid heart disease, such as avoiding tobacco products and “eating the rainbow” with lots of fruits and vegetables.

These lessons are done with some videos provided by the program. Tuesday morning, Horace Mann fifth-graders started off their class with some trivia from one of the videos. One true-or-false question addressed the myth of your heart stopping when you sneeze; the video explains that has been disproven. A multiple choice question asked the kids how many miles of blood vessels are in the body. The answer was 60,000 miles — enough to go around the world two times — and the vessels carry blood to 75 trillion cells in the body.

They also learned an interesting fact: the corneas are the only part of the body the heart doesn’t pump blood to. They get their oxygen directly from the air. And, the video continued, scientists have been able to find signs of heart disease in 3,000-year-old Egyptian mummies.

Teed said the Kids Heart Challenge uses characters to help deliver the lessons as well as on promotional materials. “It’s easier to talk about those things with a character,” he said.

The fundraising component of the program is optional for the students. The funds raised by the students go to aid AHA’s research, programs and to support those with special heart needs.

Teed doesn’t have firm goals in mind for the fundraising. He said he usually aims for each school to raise $1,500, but it’s about more than the dollar amount. “Beyond the money we raise, we also have a goal of how many kids fundraise. We like to aim for around 30,” he said. He’s not looking for large donations: “Small amounts add up, as well.”

Children who do fundraising are rewarded for their efforts. “The American Heart Association gives thank-you gifts, which is an incentive to collect,” Teed said. Many of the prizes feature the characters the students see in the videos.

But Teed has also created his own challenges to motivate the children. He created a “jump rope ladder” of skills and tricks the students can master to climb the ladder.

“The kids alone get excited for jump rope — how many jumps they can get, learning new tricks,” he said, so the ladder helps them set goals.

He said he likes to keep the lessons and fundraising from the Kids Heart Challenge contained to about two weeks. “It keeps it fresh and contains the learning components.

“The success of the program isn’t just about the money raised,” Teed said. “It’s about kids learning about their heart and being active.”

— Features Editor Tracy Goldizen can be reached via email at tgoldizen@ottumwacourier.com or followed on Twitter @CourierTracy.

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Tracy Goldizen is the Courier's features and magazine editor, leading production of the award-winning "Ottumwa Life" and the Courier's other magazine offerings. She began work with the Courier on the copy desk.

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