An elementary school in upstate New York raised a record-breaking $105,000 for the American Heart Association this year, making it the top-earning school in the history of Jump Rope for Heart.

In 2008, French Road Elementary School in Rochester achieved its goal of surpassing $1 million for its combined years of fundraising. This year, the school earned more than $105,000, making it the top earner in the program’s 35-year history.

“We always emphasize the philanthropy,” said Ella Schultheis, who runs the event with fellow physical education teachers Rick LaPaglia and Mark Salerno. “One little girl raised over $500 because her grandfather had just recovered from a heart attack.”

Jump Rope for Heart is held at more than 28,000 schools. Children get pledges and jump rope to raise funds for research and education to fight heart disease, the No. 1 killer of all Americans. Over time, the events have generated more than $750 million for the American Heart Association.

French Road holds its Jump Rope event around Valentine’s Day to help make the heart connection. More than 600 of the school’s 800 students participated this year.

Schultheis said the key to success is having the event after school and making it a “big party” instead of fitting it in during P.E. class.

“Having it as an after-school event can be time-consuming for the P.E. teachers, but that is how we’ve been No. 1 for 16 years,” she said.

On event day, teams gather in the gym and take turns jumping and resting for two hours.  Students and staff also have a moment of silence for the names on their “heart wall,” which honors those who have died from heart disease. But it’s mostly lots of jumping — with some dance breaks thrown in for good measure.

“We usually do the chicken dance, the limbo, the Macarena and the cha cha slide,” Schultheis said. “The kids get a kick out of the entire night and are thrilled to be a part of the biggest party at French Road.”

It’s personal for Schultheis, who had surgery to fix patent ductus arteriosus, an unclosed hole in the aorta, when she was in the third grade.

“It was a coincidence that I got hired at a school that participated in the American Heart Association event,” she said. “It’s very personal to me. My surgery has now been replaced with medication. What a difference 44 years of research has made for kids like me.”

Photo courtesy of Ashley Dates.


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