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ALACHUA ‒ Since 2007, W.W. Irby Elementary School in Alachua has sponsored an annual event that helps provide funds to the American Heart Association and helps teach the students about heart health.

In the past, all students would gather in the north end bus driveway to exercise and jump rope as a way to raise money and awareness. For several weeks prior to the event, teachers provide daily information about the heart, exercise and diet to the students so they can learn to make healthy choices. P.E. coach Jacqueline Johnson also teaches the children how to jump rope.

The students get sponsors among family and friends to donate money for their participation in the jump rope event with all proceeds going directly to the American Heart Association. This event also helps teach the students about charity and helping others. According to Vice Principal Karen Cronin, the event typically raises between $1,500 to $2,000, with all of it going to the American Heart Association.

This year was different due to the Covid-19 pandemic. “We felt it was important to continue the tradition, but we had to get creative on how to pull it off,” Cronin said. “We wanted the children to still make the connection about the heart health and exercise, especially since physical activity is much more limited this year with the quarantine time and lack of social interaction outside of the limited time they have spent in school.

“We also wanted them to understand the idea of helping others and that we can all be part of that,” Cronin said. “But it was a priority to make it safe for the children as well, so we decided to do each grade separately during their resource time, which is scheduled at a different time for each grade.” They also changed the way they collected donations with more emphasis on parents donating online and less in-person collecting from family and neighbors.

Jumping spaces were marked out for each individual student to maintain social distance and all students and faculty wore masks. The exercise activities also helped maintain space with more emphasis on dancing and individual competition than all the students jumping rope together. As a finale, all students per class gathered in a circle, each holding a loop on a large “parachute” raising it up together to slowly descend multiple times to show the unity of working together.

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