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Jump Rope for Heart is nothing new to the West Chester school district elementary schools.
What was new this year was how much the children excelled at fundraising for the American Heart Association.
“Each year for at least the past 25 years, the West Chester school district has participated in Jump Rope for Heart fundraising,” said Mike Usilton, the phys. ed. teacher at Fern Hill Elementary. “It’s a program with education for the kids in both prevention and also the American Heart Association takes part of the money raised and gets research grants. It’s a dual purpose in prevention for the children and getting out literature and also for the research for universities.”
During the month of February, the schools hold jump rope programs, which varies from school to school as far as how the jump roping goes on.
For Fern Hill Elementary, they dedicate an entire hour to the fun.
“We have a gigantic space that’s a gym and cafeteria and I open the wall and rearrange the lunch schedules,” Usilton said. “Each grade, first through fifth, comes down for an entire hour. We have enough space where every single child can jump at the same time.”
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People may think there’s only one way to jump rope, but the students would show them that’s not the case after everything they learn.
“I teach them all different kinds of jumping — either double-dutch or different types of games with double-dutch, long rope and also different activities with the short rope,” Usilton said. “They have a choice and anytime they can switch between the three different types of jump roping and the different games. We basically jump for that entire hour and I DJ it. We also have the kids draw heart and decorate them and we stuck those to the wall.”
The money raised by the students is all through flat-rate sponsorships, which now can be done online, making the process even easier than ever before.
“Usually, our kids would go around door-to-door and I don’t think that happens very much anymore,” Usilton said. “Part of that education of charity comes from the parents because explaining charity to a kindergartner is very, very difficult. Our school, this year, got slightly more money in cash and checks than online, but it’s almost 50 percent. The donations were higher since we’ve gone online.”
Over the years, the elementaries have been going up and up with the money raised, but this year’s total blew away every other year.
This year, the young students in the district raised $105,689, far surpassing the $70,000 they’ve done in years past.
“That’s incredible,” Usilton said. “I’m a numbers guy, so I can tell you it has gone up an amazing amount. In the past few years, we’ve been in the 70s. This is the first year we’ve ever gone over $100,000. I did some calculations and, since I have been in the school district for the last 22 years, we’ve raised over $1.2 million.”
For Usilton, this program is special to him as one of triplets was born was transposition of the great arteries.
“It’s a serious heart condition where the aorta and the pulmonary artery are going to the wrong spot on the heart,” he said. “I don’t know if the American Heart Association specifically funded the research that made that operation possible, but it wasn’t until 1981 that the operation was even possible. He’s absolutely fine now.”
But Usilton isn’t alone. Cardiovascular diseases are the No. 1 cause of death worldwide, killing 17.5 million people in 2012 — three in every 10 deaths — according to the World Health Organization.
“The biggest piece that I tell the children is that it provides literature so that you learn and other people learn how to keep their hearts healthy, but also provide research for people whose hearts aren’t healthy and help to control that and better their lives,” Usilton said. “A lot of the families have heart disease. They really embrace that wirh ‘I’m jumping for Uncle Joe’ or ‘We’re jumping in honor of …’ It’s on the American Heart Association slip the kids turn in. The families can identify with having relatives who have had that difficulty.”