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ALACHUA – Rain or shine, the students of W.W. Irby Elementary School joined the American Heart Association on Feb. 13 to celebrate its annual Jump Rope for Heart fundraiser.

The event, which promotes heart healthy living and raises funds for the American Heart Association, took place alongside Irby’s 20th year anniversary. Students and visitors gathered in the school’s cafeteria, after rainy weather caused the event to be moved inside, to honor retired teachers and “Heart Heroes.”

Among those recognized as “Heart Heroes” were retired World War II veteran Hal Bingham, 4-year-old Irby student Ignacio Miguel and co-heart ambassadors Caiden Flanigan and Sammyon Keith.

American Heart Association Youth Market Director Dawn Barrack said this year’s event was spent mostly on talking to the students about heart health, wellness and nutrition.

“It’s about the heart and getting it pumping,” Barrack said. “More importantly, every child is walking away from the event knowing something about their heart that they didn’t know beforehand.”

Barrack said Irby Elementary has raised a total of $120,931 since starting their partnership with the heart association in 1994. Results for this year’s fundraiser won’t be available until the beginning of March, she said. Students raise the donations by asking members of their communities, families and friends. This year they were also able to use an online website devoted to gathering funds from across the country. According to Barrack, Irby has already raised $2,500 from online alone.

“I find that Alachua County schools really do it from the heart,” Barrack said. “They do it to give back.”

Physical Education teacher and Jump Rope for Heart Coordinator Ray Crone said he had lots of plans for Wednesday’s event. He planned a parade, which would feature the “Heart Heroes” walking, and multiple exercise stations so that the students can do various jumping activities. However, with the change in weather he had to forego the parade and bring the event inside.

The event also recognized past teachers in a segment called “Now and Then,” which celebrated their contribution as well as the school’s history. Other notable guest included Alachua County Public Schools Superintendent Dan Boyd, Santa Fe College Band Director Steve Bingham, Bill Donovan, Ken Block and Drew Copeland of Sister Hazel.

Crone said the goal this year for Irby was to raise $9,500 which he said he hopes will be fulfilled. Six-year-old first-grader Ava Adams was among the students fundraising. She has raised $1,264 and has been participating in this event for about two years. According to her father, Ava’s main reason for doing the event was to honor her 2-year-old cousin, who suffers from a congenital heart defect. Students are given about two weeks before the event to raise money.

Co-heart Ambassador Caiden Flanigan, 6, who was born with two heart defects and a heart valve disorder, also helped raised over $300.

Crone said about 700 people attended the event and because of the weather he will extend the five jumping stations throughout the week during the students P.E. classes so that each student will be able to participate.

“For this 20 year anniversary and Jump Rope for Heart, I wanted to give these kids the very best,” Crone said.

Along with raising money for the American Heart Association, the event also helps raise money for P.E. equipment. Irby receives $100 in equipment for every $2,000 donated.

“We want the kids to get active and involved,” Crone said. “We just want the kids to have a good time jumping.”

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