Parley’s Park students pump in money for American Heart Association
As Jen Wheelwright tells it, it all started out as something she was simply told to do when she was hired as a physical education teacher at Parley’s Park Elementary School.
In the 12 years since, it’s become a sort of passion for Wheelwright, a way to make a difference. Each year around this time, she helps spearhead the school’s participation in two American Heart Association programs — Jump Rope for Heart and Hoops for Heart — to raise money for people who don’t have properly functioning hearts.
"The school had been doing it when I got here, so I went ahead and did it," she said. "Ever since, we’ve gotten bigger and bigger and bigger."
Last year was the biggest yet. After years of being the top-raising school in the state, students raised about $44,000, the most of any school in the country that participates in both programs. The school is hoping to top that mark this year. It recently kicked off the monthlong event with an assembly that showed the students who, exactly, they’re helping when they go door-to-door and email their relatives for donations.
A student who recently transferred to the school spoke to her classmates at the assembly. She revealed that she had a hole in her heart when she was born. If she’d been born just 20 years earlier, doctors wouldn’t have had the medical knowledge to fix the defect. Wheelwright said hearing that hit home for the students.
"I think it’s helpful at the assembly that they see a kid who says, ‘This is what happened to me,’" she said. "The kids are like, ‘Oh my gosh, that could have been me. And the money we raise helps our own classmates.’ They really take it seriously.
"It’s about keeping your bodies healthy and helping people who don’t have healthy hearts. There are so many fundraisers that go on, but this one is kind of different and the kids relate to it a little more."
Throughout the month, kindergarten through third-grade students will participate in jump rope activities in class as part of Jump Rope for Heart. Fourth- and fifth-graders play basketball for Hoops for Heart. They then go home and raise the money, asking nearly everyone they know to donate.
Nate Brown, the school’s other physical education teacher, said the community is eager to rally around the students for a good cause.
"Park City in general is a pretty generous community that’s active in giving back," he said. "The kids still have to send emails and sign up online and go door-to-door, though. It’s a lot of work, and I think that aspect is cool. They kind of get the idea of giving back."
Students also get prizes for the money they raise. The last two years, the American Heart Association has offered toy ducks when students pass a certain threshold.
Third-grader Connor Greally said he looks forward each year to raising the money — and earning the toy ducks.
"It’s pretty fun because you get to get cool ducks, and each duck represents a life that you save," he said, adding that he’s raised $110 so far but expects to finish with much more than that. "And it’s also good because you can save people with sick hearts, which I really like."
Some students dedicate their spare time to little else during the fundraiser.
"We have some kids go crazy — $1,500, stuff like that," Brown said. "We had one girl a few years ago who, instead of giving her birthday presents for her birthday, she wanted people to donate to this."
While the students enjoy the prizes, Wheelwright said they understand that helping others is the most important thing.
"It’s cool to see them not be just like, ‘Oh I want the ducks and I want the prizes,’" she said. "They’re more like, ‘Let’s help save lives and help people who aren’t as lucky as we are.’"
Additionally, Wheelwright and Brown incorporate the fundraiser into their normal lesson plans and use it as a learning opportunity for the students.
"We relate it to P.E.," Wheelwright said. "We talk about how to keep our own bodies healthy and our own hearts healthy. We try to let these kids know that they’re really lucky that they have healthy hearts and can do all this stuff."
The school also benefits, in the form of new P.E. equipment.
"It’s a great way to help our budget out, too," Brown said. "We get a couple hundred bucks back each year to buy new equipment. We don’t have a big budget, so I guess that’s a little bit of an incentive for us to keep helping the kids do it."
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The Park City Board of Education is on track to place a bond on the ballot this fall to improve district facilities. The top priorities would be to put ninth grade in the high school, eighth grade in the middle school and to augment preschool offerings by expanding elementary schools.