WALWORTH — Thirty-five years ago, Martha Halma was in school at Fontana Elementary. Her gym glass, taught by Carol Cumbland, participated in the first Jump Rope for Heart event.
Now, Halma is teaching her own students at Walworth Elementary School the Jump Rope for Heart program, a fundraiser for the American Heart Association.
According to the association’s website, the program aims to promote physical activity and raise awareness of heart disease and strokes while raising money for research.
Halma and Troy Hummel “go all out” for the two-week long program.
Inside the gym there are 25 stations for groups of students to rotate through during gym class.
Several of the stations are jumping rope: single ropes and long ropes.
Hummel showed a group of students a couple tricks with the single ropes.
A couple other stations involve jumping: distance jumps, pogo sticks, trampolines and jumping jacks.
The rest of the stations are for social and mental fitness, Halma said: question and answers and heart health, heart rate monitors, group volleyball and ping pong.
“A lot of the exercises are to build that social fitness,” Halma said.
“Kids have trouble with that, even adults do, with cooperating with others.”
The class didn’t resist the learning, either. Groups of four students ran from station to station at Halma’s whistle every few minutes. Cheers and laughs echoed throughout the gym.
Halma and Hummel have been teaching at Walworth for 15 years, and they’ve coordinated the Jump Rope for Heart program each year.
“My age is starting to show,” Halma said. “After I get enough of those banners,” she said while pointing to the Jump Rope for Heart banners hung on the wall for each year, “I know I can retire.”
The American Heart Association website states that more than 7 million children participate in the program each year.
Some of the money that students raise for the association’s research program comes back to the school. Walworth Elementary will receive certificates for gym equipment to use during next year’s Jump Rope for Heart.
“The kids know that we get this equipment for the event,” Halma said. “We don’t use it most of the rest of the year, so it’s a good opportunity for them to do something different in gym class.”
The first day of the Jump Rope program, Halma and Hummel had a class of 27 fifth-graders first thing in the morning.
“It’s so good for them to get time to come in here and run around,” Halma said. “The rest of the day, they’re sitting inside, not moving around much. This is a great way to start the day.”
Halma said during the especially cold days of winter, the students are inside all day, and they don’t get to play.
“When I talk to some of the kids about what they’re going to do on the weekend, they say, ‘oh, I’m playing this video game,’” she said. “Then they say they’re going to get pizza for dinner. We try to use this class and especially the Jump Rope for Heart program as a way to educate kids about living a healthy life. It’s hard right now because they just sit in front of their screens all day.”
A major part of the two week program is education about how the heart works, healthy nutrition and an active lifestyle.
“If we held something like this after school, we wouldn’t get nearly as much of the participation,” Halma said. “We do it as part of our curriculum, teaching kids about their bodies. I tell them to know their bodies, know their numbers, to ask questions when they go to the doctor. It’s empowering for them to know what’s going on inside of them.”