EARLY— Early Primary School students celebrate raising nearly $20,000 for the 2018 Kids Heart Challenge, formerly Jump Rope For Heart.

In recognition of students raising $17,000 for the American Heart Association through the 2018 Kids Heart Challenge, Early Primary School Principal Teresa Cooley took pies in the face from the three top fundraisers during a Friday afternoon celebration.

“It makes me feel so proud of them,” said Gayle Smith, a physical education teacher at Early Primary School. “That’s why we made this a big celebration because they really went above and beyond what they needed to. I’m proud of them and they worked really hard.”

In January, schools throughout Brown County began the 2018 Kids Heart Challenge. The program encourages children to maintain healthy heart habits such as avoiding sugar, drinking more water, incorporate more fruits and vegetables into their diets and participating in one hour of vigorous activity each day. While earning prizes for ranging from plush toys signifying health heart habits and augmented reality cards, students will also raise money for the American Heart Association.

“We do lesson plans and build a healthy website for each school. On that website, schools have lesson plans,” said America Heart Association Youth Marketing Director Molly Wright while touring area schools in January. “We know each school is going to teach jump rope or hoops as part of a basketball unit, but now we have lessons on dance for them — anything. It’s not just about jumping rope. That’s not what our program is about. It’s about heart health. Jump roping was just because we know a lot of schools have a jump rope unit. That’s why we wanted to encompass total heart health in anyway. A lot of schools don’t even run it through the P.E. program.”

Smith told her students if they reached their goal of $12,000 she would kiss a pig and let the top earners cover her in silly-string and Cooley double-down on that guarantee by saying if they set s school record she would also kiss a pig and let the top earners hit her in the face with a pie. It seems their encouragements paid off with student Holden Wise collecting $1,200, followed by Aubrey Rosales with $540 and Luna and Oliver Snell with $420. Oliver Snell was also named a Heart Hero along with Nikkita Pogue and Kelton Seigman.

“We did it last year and I got pied in the face, but this year we did kiss the pig.  This is the most we’ve ever raised,” Smith said. “Since they went above and beyond we did a little bit more with the silly string. I was counting and when we were getting closer and closer I thought, oh man kissing a pig is going to be a reality. It was kind of sad.”

According to the Center for Disease Control heart disease is the most common factor in deaths. The CDC estimates one in four deaths is the result of heart disease, accounting for 610,000 deaths. Wright said nearly everyone in some form or fashion has been affected by heart disease. Smith said there are three children on the EPS campus with ongoing heart ailments so any opportunity to educate her students on heart conditions is not one that goes wasted.

“It shows the kids you can help people even though you’re young,” Smith said. “We have three kids on our campus we honored this year as well because they all have some kind of heart condition.”