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Dominic Castillo, 6, takes off his shoe to put on a Skip-It for the Jump Rope for Heart activity at Tilton School.

Despite losing a day to collect donations due to bad weather, students at Tilton Elementary School raised nearly $10,000 for the American Heart Association during the month leading up to the school’s 10th annual Jump Rope for Heart Day.

Last Thursday, nearly 500 first-, second- and third-grade students celebrated a month’s worth of jump rope and Skip-It practice. The day was changed to Thursday because Friday’s forecast called for rain.

Tilton physical education teacher Christine Munier has spearheaded the Jump Rope for Heart Day event for the past decade. She said Tilton students and their families have raised nearly $70,000 for the association over the past nine years. The association has been organizing Jump Rope for Heart days in schools across the nation since 1977.

“Tilton students and families always do a fabulous job raising money for the American Heart Association,” Munier said as she watched first-graders performing double Dutch. “In the beginning it’s hard because the students need to learn how to really work well together, but over time their skills improve and by the end it’s awesome. The community really pulls through and a lot of the parents show up to watch.”

Students practice long rope, short rope, Skip-It and Chinese jump rope skills in their physical education classes prior to Jump Rope for Heart Day. Thursday, students were brought to the back of the school where teachers had six “activity stations” waiting for them. Students were jumping up and down even before holding any ropes in eager anticipation of the next hour of fun.

“This is a very good activity and it’s healthy for us,” said Eryn Spencer, 8.

Students moved to a different station every five minutes. The dance area, which played songs like “The Macarena,” “Cotton-Eyed Joe” and “The Electric Slide,” were very popula,r as were the double Dutch and sidewalk chalk stations.

Gary Urey, the American Heart Association’s youth market director, complimented Munier and her students for their commitment to the program over the years.

“(Munier) has been doing a great job here for many years,” Urey said. “It’s great to see the kids excited. A Disney movie called ‘Jump In’ really fueled a recent craze for jumping. Jumping rope is one of the best things to do, and it’s cheap.”

The American Heart Association provides Tilton with all the ropes and educational material it needs, and provides Munier with $500 grants to buy gym equipment later. Participants earn prizes based on the amount of money they collect.

“The money our school raises helps fund potentially lifesaving research into heart and blood vessel diseases,” Munier said. “Jumping is one of the best forms of cardiovascular exercise. It emphasizes the importance of physical activity as children do something they enjoy.”

According to the American Heart Association, about 16 percent of children and teens in the United States today are overweight. The number of children who are overweight and who have diabetes is continuously increasing, and at an alarming rate. Cardiovascular disease ranks as the second cause of death for children under age 15.

The alarming statistics haven’t gone unnoticed by students, who are aware of the good done with the money they raised.

“Jump Rope for Heart is good because it raises money to help people,” said 8-year-old Ethan Call.

Justin Britton, 9, said, “Jump Rope for Heart saves people who are hurt with heart disease.”

Munier explained that students kept track of their personal achievements on a record wall in the gym. The school record for consecutive jumps in a class period is 1,527 — and this year’s record holder came pretty close.

Sean Bellemore was this year’s top jumper with 1,136 jumps, and Eric Bates was a close second with 1,133.

“The kids start to say, my heart is beating so fast,” Munier said. “I just tell them that’s good, that’s exercise.”

The class raising the most money will be rewarded with an ice cream party. “The good stuff,” joked Munier. “Not fat-free frozen yogurt.”

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