Schools get healthy while raising money for heart care

By Christine Bordelon, Clarion Herald

The American Heart Association (AHA) sponsors a year-round program that encourages students to get involved in heart-healthy activities.

In the 2018-19 school year, 641 students in 12 Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of New Orleans took part in the Heart-Healthy Challenge and raised $23,078 for the AHA’s life-saving heart research and education, said Melissa Mitchell, the AHA’s youth services marketing director for New Orleans/Baton Rouge.

Participating schools were Academy of the Sacred Heart, Our Lady of Divine Providence, Our Lady of Lourdes, St. Benilde, St. Dominic, St. Edward the Confessor, St. Matthew the Apostle, St. Mary Magdalen, St. Peter in Reserve, St. Rosalie, Ursuline Academy and Visitation of Our Lady.

“The dollars raised help fund community initiatives, education, research and quality of care – all to fight the No. 1 killer in the world, heart disease,” said the AHA website.

Ursuline Academy, St. Edward the Confessor and Visitation of Our Lady raised the most money for the heart- healthy challenge. Ursuline elementary and middle-school students raised $5,221 and had 59 students take heart-healthy challenges. St. Edward raised $2,986 with 206 students participating; and Visitation of Our Lady raised $2,905 with 78 students taking the challenge. St. Benilde received a $3,400 grant for its efforts in being heart healthy. It was awarded as part of $400,000 in grants up for grabs from the American Heart Association.

What participants do

Mitchell says she hosts a kickoff of Kids Heart Healthy Challenge at all participating schools and would love more schools to join.

While schools are required to hold heart challenge activities only for two weeks (any time during the year), Mitchell said the educational resources, lesson plans, teacher professional development and equipment such as jump ropes and balls that accompany the program are available to the school year-round.

“My job is to promote heart health and why being healthy is so important,” Mitchell said. “A healthy choice (of exercise) can be a natural choice. Exercise can be fun.”

She listed a few statistics to encourage schools to sign up: heart disease is the nation’s No. 1 killer; 61% of children ages 9-13 aren’t physically active outside of school; childhood obesity is the No. 1 health concern among American parents; healthy students miss fewer school days; and physical activity is linked to an increase in cognitive performance.

Participating schools encourage their students by making announcements and setting up exercise stations during recess and physical education and more, she said.

Evolved from jump roping

At St. Matthew the Apostle in River Ridge, P.E. and religion teacher Susan Guidry, 39 years at St. Matthew, has been participating in American Heart Association activities and raising money for approximately 15 years. She said she has a soft spot for heart issues, considering her brother was born with heart problems, and she’s a five-year heart attack survivor.

Guidry said she uses the jump ropes provided by the AHA during P.E. and recess, and also posts heart factoids given by the association around the school and weaves them into physical education classes.

For several years, St. Matthew has done a whole school walk for heart on the last day of the American Heart Association fundraiser at Little Farms Playground. She’s even done an overnight marathon using jump ropes and given certificates to students who complete 100 jumps consecutively.

“I’ve done jump roping all my years in education (44 years total),” Guidry said. “Jump roping is something kids really like to do, they just don’t realize how much they do! The boys used to think it is a girl’s thing, but I tell them in the 1800s, girls weren’t allowed to jump rope.”

She said the AHA video used to kick off the heart fundraiser raises students’ awareness of how lucky students are to have their health.

“It is usually about a child who has had heart surgery,” Guidry said. “It gives the kids a chance to look and say, ‘That’s a kid just like me,’ and know the money they raise goes to help those with heart conditions.”

Mitchell said Kids Heart Challenge is the rebranding in 2018 of the 40-year-old Jump Rope for the Heart program.

“This program focuses on the whole child … with a goal to teach students how to make healthier choices and empower students to give back to the community as leaders.”

The American Heart Association will hold its 2019 Heart Walk Nov. 16 at LaSalle Park, 

6600 Airline Drive in Metairie. It is one of 305 events nationwide.

Locally, the AHA has a fundraising goal of $550,000. Visit or call Mitchell at 416-2200.

Christine Bordelon can be reached at

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