On a holiday that was all about hearts, what better way to celebrate than to raise money to combat heart disease?

Students at Kensington Elementary School participated in American Heart Association’s Kids Heart Challenge, formally called Jump Rope for Heart, on Friday, Feb. 14, in the school’s multi-purpose room.

Students from kindergarten all the way to fifth grade participated in the program during their allotted special area time by jumping rope. Children in child development also participated and were grouped in with the third-graders because they do not have special area time.

“This is our 12th annual,” Kensington Elementary physical education teacher Dennis Brachna said. “For about 40 years it was called Jump Rope for Heart. As of last school year, it became Kids Heart Challenge, but we’re so ingrained with Jump Rope for Heart we normally just call it Jump Rope for Heart.”

Brachna has witnessed the program blossom in his time at the school.

“I’ve been here 14 years now and it’s been a tremendous success,” he said. “It’s grown year by year. Last year we set a new school record with $10,058 and we had a fourth grader, Reagan Shelley, who was our top fundraiser and she had a new personal record at $1,400. She started out in kindergarten, it might even have been child development, and she’s been our leading fundraiser each year that she’s been here at Kensington. This year she’s broken last year’s record; I think she’s raised $1,622. Online last year we set a new record of $3,470 and as of this morning we raised $5,776.05 online, so we have a shot at breaking our former (overall) school record of last year.”

Brachna was happy with how many students participated this year.

“We’ve had a great turnout,” he said. “It was students who raised at least five dollars to help people with heart problems who came to me during their special area time.”

This fundraiser is very special to Brachna.

“Personally I’ve had quite a few family members who have passed from heart-related disease, cardiovascular disease, and it’s a sort of mission of mine to help people with heart problems,” he said. “And I realize that one day I may be in need of help; it’s sort of genetic in my family. So we want to have everybody we can support the American Heart Association.”

Brachna is thankful to everyone who has helped make the event a success.

“We appreciate everybody’s support,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of people make this successful. Not only the students, but their parents, of course everybody who donates on their behalf, faculty members; for example, my classes today are split. I have a normal schedule; for each grade level I have a class, but because of me being involved with the Jump Rope for Heart, only the students from my scheduled classes who raised at least five dollars come to me. The rest of those students are split between the other special area teachers, so they are very supportive. And also the homeroom teachers encourage the students to participate.”

The principal and assistant principal also helped out a lot.

“Also our principal, Mr. (Maurice) Cobb and our assistant principal, Dr. (Carla) Brandon, they do a great job of supporting us and promoting the event,” Brachna said. “Every morning on the announcements, Mr. Cobb gives us a heart fact.”

Brachna tests his students to see if they were paying attention to Cobb’s heart facts.

“And then also, in class, I’ll ask them questions about the heart fact and see who can remember and they get a little gift, a little prize for those who can remember accurately something about the heart fact,” he said.

Heart Heroes are also a big part of the event.

“We also have two Heart Heroes every day, one boy and one girl, who are participants who have raised money and already turned it in or it’s been sent in online,” Brachna said. “And so we have one boy and one girl who are announced in the morning as our Heart Heroes; they wear a cape. It’s a big deal. We have so many knocking on the door, ‘When can I be Heart Hero, when can I be Heart Hero?’ So many are deserving, but there’s so many of a number we can pick.”