Small School, BIG Difference

March 22, 2017

Reanna Zappavigna, 21, was born and raised in Rome, New York and is currently a senior at the State University of New York at Cortland. She studies physical education and is completing her Masters in special education during the next year. She is interested in getting today’s students active, helping students with disabilities participate in sports, getting everyone to outdoors, and helping her students find their passions. In Reanna’s free time you will find her leading outdoor trips for college students, playing field hockey, snowboarding, doing yoga, and finding new adventures.

The students at Westmoreland Elementary School are a reminder you can never be too young or too small to give and be a part of something larger than yourself. This month, the school’s 360 students raised just over $7,000 for the American Heart Association by jumping rope.

The central New York school hit this amazing benchmark – more than doubling their goal – through the Jump Rope For Heart program. Sponsored by the American Heart Association and the Society of Health and Physical Educators (SHAPE), the program helps to get students active, learn healthy habits, give back to their community, and take care of the most important muscle in the body, the heart.

During the program’s three-week run from February 17 to March 10, the students fundraise by asking friends and family, in person or online, to donate to the American Heart Association. Then, during the week of March 6, students participated in different jump rope stations in their physical education classes. The stations included Chinese jump rope, long ropes similar to Double Dutch, as well as traditional jump rope challenges.

After a seven-year break from participating in the program, the school’s physical education teachers, Cheryl Smith and Gregory Williams, decided to bring it back this winter with the goal of raising $3,000. Since none of the students had participated before, they thought it would be a new way to get the students excited. They also wanted to show their new student teacher a community based program, the behind the scenes work it takes, its benefits, and the generosity of the local community.

The students were enthusiastic about the program. For some, the issue of heart health was personal. When asked why she wanted to help fundraise, one fourth grader said, “My uncle just passed away a couple weeks ago from a heart condition and I want to be able to help others who need it most.” For others, they liked the way giving back made them feel. One students said, “I felt proud to help others” while another third grader said, “It makes me feel happy that I get to help other kids.”

Ms. Smith praised the program, “[The American Heart Association] make[s] it very kid-friendly…This year’s theme was a zoo theme, with different animals representing different heart healthy habits. Students were able to earn the different animals on key chains to wear on a lanyard to remind them of the healthy habits. I observed many students wear their lanyards proudly, and remember what each animal represented. My favorite was, Tusker the Elephant who is a physical educator, reminding students to get 60 minutes of exercise a day.”

The American Heart Association, in partnership with the US Games, helps schools that participate in Jump Rope for Heart purchase new equipment for their physical education classes. As school budgets get smaller, this extra funding can be a helpful way for schools to purchase the equipment they need and want for their gymnasiums.

In 1978, a physical education teacher at a Milwaukee High School created the program, then called the “Jump-Rope-A-Thon”. The following year, the American Heart Association and SHAPE adopted the program and expanded it nationwide. The program raises money for the surrounding community to help with heart disease treatment, congenital heart defect treatments and surgeries, as well as awareness and education programs. Students not only learn about keeping their heart healthy, they also get to learn about community service and become empowered by contributing to the wellbeing of their community.

According to the American Heart Association, as of 2014 “Jump Rope For Heart has generated more than $750 million to fund research and education about heart disease….the event is held at more than 28,000 schools.”