Heart Heroes

By: John Holt 

For the last 20-plus years, Good Shepherd Episcopal School lower school students have participated in the Kids Heart Challenge, formerly Jump Rope For Heart. This annual event is always a popular hit, and is held at schools across the country. The purpose is to teach youth about keeping their hearts and brains healthy, whole body wellness, and the importance of helping others. If a student elects to register for the challenge, they spend three weeks raising funds for the American Heart Association to help kids facing heart-health issues. 

This spring 98 Good Shepherd students registered and raised a school record $22,283. In prior years, the school never raised more than $12,000 during a Kids Heart Challenge.

“This year, we crushed it,” Good Shepherd Physical Education Teacher Brooke Roney said. “It is absolutely remarkable and a testament to the kids. I think it was a surprise to them that they did as well as they did.”  

While the nearly $23,000 was a school record, first grader Sarina raised the most funds ever by a Good Shepherd student, topping $5,000. “I think this was really important for her,” Roney said.

Sarina's accomplishments were recognized on Thursday, April 7 in a lower school Kids Heart Challenge Celebration. That day, she and her father, Dr. Nipun, arrived at school in a 1966 red Mustang convertible to chants of “Sarina…Sarina...Sarina!” Her classmates and the entire first grade were all smiles as they proudly shouted her name. Wearing a crown, Sarina was in amazement and upon exiting the car, led her grade to the campus courtyard where the entire lower school was cheering her name!

“They were so excited for her,” Roney said. “There was a lot of rallying around her, which was pretty special.”

The morning celebration recognized everyone for their work and contributions during the three-week period. Each student who participated in fundraising received a red Heart Heroes wristband. For raising over $250, thirty-five students were awarded the title of PE Coach of the Day and each received their own whistle. Twelve students earned a Finn’s Mission keychain for completing Finn’s Mission, which consisted of a series of 10 challenges, including a self-donation, sharing their fundraising page, learning about hands-only CPR, completing 150-minutes of moving, exercising as a family and learning about brain and heart health.

The top 10 fundraisers were then recognized and the event ended with Desai dumping an ice water cooler over Roney’s head!  “The idea just came to me,” Roney said. “The kids couldn’t wait to see me get dumped with ice water. I am pretty sure it was a huge hit with everyone!” 

Yet what stood out most to Roney was how the students finished the challenge. The reason is almost half of the funds were donated during the first five days.

“I expected it to stall a little bit, but we kept telling the kids every class, ‘you can still register, there’s still time!’” Roney said. “We had kids registering even during the last week.”  

With such positive results and feedback, Roney would like the Kids Heart Challenge celebration to become a yearly Good Shepherd tradition. Next year, she plans to set the fundraising goal at $25,000 and hopes to get 100 students registered. Regardless of what happens in the future, the success of 2022 won’t be forgotten.  

“Ninety-eight kids raised that much money in a short amount of time,” Roney said. “We have students with big hearts. Honestly, the Heart Hero motto fits our students very well.” 

While obtaining big-hearted students is a standard at Good Shepherd, this group of Heart Heroes will also be remembered for the way they personified the school mission of serving with compassion and leading with courage: humbly, proudly, and selflessly. 

Nationally, all school physical education departments are tasked in leading Kids Heart Challenge efforts. At Good Shepherd, Roney served as this year’s faculty leader.   

Throughout the challenge’s three weeks, all lower school students participated in physical fitness activities such as jump rope, dance and basketball in Physical Education class to exercise their hearts. With jump rope, students each paired up to form a routine with music. For dance, students engaged in movements. And with basketball, discovering rhythm was the objective as students bounced a ball, listened and attempted to piece both together.

“We didn’t want to just put an emphasis on fundraising,” Roney said. “We wanted to also put an emphasis on the purpose behind it. Not all kids want to fundraise, but want to participate in the physical aspect of the challenge. We just wanted to make sure that every kid felt included.”