Healthy hearts might as well jump

April 3, 2008

By Greg Duggan
Observer staff

For each of the past five years, students at Allen Brook and Williston Central schools have raised more money than any other Vermont school district during the American Heart Association’s Jump Rope for Heart event. On Friday, March 28 nearly 400 rope-skipping youngsters were shooting to make it six in a row.

With speakers in the Allen Brook gymnasium blasting everything from punk rock to the Macarena to the hokey pokey, hundreds of students took turns jumping rope for three straight hours.

For their efforts, the students collected donations to benefit the American Heart Association. The money goes towards research and education, said Russell Beilke, the association’s youth market director, with some funds returning to the schools for physical education equipment.

“It’s an education based event with an underlying fundraiser aspect,” Beilke said.

“Every child understands the purpose,” said Jennifer Oakes, a Williston physical education teacher and the school district’s athletic director. “It’s for them to get exercise and raise awareness of heart disease and stroke. To get active helps the heart and the lungs get healthy.”

Students formed groups of seven to 10 and took turns skipping rope. At least one person from each team had to be jumping for all three hours of the event. Some went solo, swinging the rope over their heads and under their feet. Others, like Olivia Werner, Meghan Walker, Madeleine Serafini and Eve Wilson, took a team approach, with a member holding each end of the rope and other students hopping in the middle.

“I wanted to do it because you get exercise and help people in need,” said Ananth Malladi, one of the participants.

“I’ve done it before. It gets your heart moving,” said Alia Rousso as she held her hands to her chest.

This year’s event included more than 260 students from Allen Brook and more than 120 from Williston Central, said Oakes. Beilke and Oakes also credited the greater number of parents and volunteers for their involvement.

“We continue to have more and more kids involved. It’s huge,” Oakes laughed. “Yeah, it’s huge.”

The students had raised $18,500 at the event, and when physical education teacher Cathy Kohlasch announced the number the gym erupted in cheers from the students.

By this week, Oakes said outstanding donations should bring the total to more than $20,000.

Whether or not the amount will earn Williston the top fundraising spot for a sixth straight year remains to be seen. More than 160 schools in Vermont participate in a Jump Rope for Heart event, and Oakes said the American Heart Association announces the totals in the fall. Regardless of where Williston finishes in the fundraising totals, Oakes said the town can be proud of itself.

“This is unbelievably generous of the community of Williston,” she said.