When we think of the words “heart healthy,” we picture images of exercise, foods rich in omega-3s and making sure we schedule that yearly check-up. We don’t, however, usually think about our kids, and the American Heart Association is trying to change that.
Celebrating its 40th year in Louisiana schools, the AHA’s Kids Heart Challenge helps kids learn about their heart and how it works, participate in a few heart-pumping activities and raise money for scientific research as well as outreach programs.
“It’s an honor to be involved with a program as long-standing as the Kids Heart Challenge. Encouraging children to take their health seriously, by engaging them through exciting, fun activities, results in both happier, healthier kids today and a smarter, more health-conscious generation in the future,” said Molly Kimball, Registered Dietician and Founder of EatFitNola.
Sixty-five schools participate in the Kid’s Heart Challenge between Jefferson and Orleans parishes. According to John Beisner, the organization’s Communications Director for New Orleans and Baton Rouge, the AHA, through the Kids Heart Challenge, noticed the value whole-child centered learning brings to both students and schools. The decision to base the program in schools is geared toward having the widest impact they can have in the community by engaging kids in a big way early on.
The Kids Heart Challenge has four main activations as part of the program this year: a jump-rope challenge, a basketball activity, a dance and an obstacle course. With each of these activities kids learn how moving and staying active can get their heart pumping and keep them healthy. Meanwhile, their diversity shows kids that “exercise” doesn’t have to involve a bike, a ball or a playground. Instead, simply moving more while doing something you enjoy can be small first steps to maintaining an active lifestyle.
Janet Pitzen, Physical Education Teacher and Coordinator for the Kids Heart Challenge™ at Phoebe Hearst Elementary School in Jefferson Parish, has partnered with the AHA for 24 years, and counting. “I continue with the Kids Heart Challenge™ because it’s fun and educational. My job is to instill the love to move, play and have fun in my students. If they start young, they’re more likely to continue making healthy choices throughout their lives,” says Pitzen. Phoebe Hearst Elementary was the No. 1 performing school in Jefferson Parish last year, having raised $5,748.66. Over the years, Pitzen and her team have raised over $110,000.
As part of the program’s evolution during its 40-year history, the activities have been intentionally designed to promote “whole-child” health by supporting both their physical as well as emotional wellbeing. When kids dance, cheer their classmates on and take pride in their strength and accomplishments, they build confidence and learn social skills that they’ll take with them throughout their lives.
The students aren’t the only ones that can benefit from this program; the schools also see a host of benefits, including direct give-backs and a new curriculum that can help teachers promote the lessons Kids Heart Challenge is trying to instill. Teachers have access to several classroom activity plans, and their schools can apply for funds from a new grant program.
The funds raised by the Kids Heart Challenge support advocacy initiatives to keep physical education in schools, ensure kids have access to healthy foods and provide resources to advocate for CPR in school laws that ensure every student knows how to save a life. Since 1949, the AHA has funded $4.1 billion in research, and currently funds 2,000 scientists around the United States.
Just the Facts …
To find out if your child’s school is participating in Kids Heart Challenge, visit Heart.org/KidsHeartChallenge.
Educators and students can join the Kids Heart Challenge Facebook Group, Facebook.com/group/KidsHeartChallenge, to share stories, best practices and successes.
To learn more about other school programs, or to make a donation to the American Heart Association, visit Heart.org.