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Healthy, happy hearts
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For five years Oak Hill Elementary School has been the top fundraising school in the county and for the American Heart Association's Hoops for Heart and Jump Rope for Heart campaigns.

"We hope we get it again this year," said Amanda Arena-Willis, Oak Hill physical education teacher.

This year Oak Hill students raised more than $6,000.

Arena-Willis coordinated the events at Oak Hill to coincide with Valentine's Day because of its heart theme.

She said Oak Hill is the only school in the county to participate in both Jump Rope for Heart and Hoops for Heart.

"Really, Hoops is designed for middle school students," Arena-Willis said.

Arena-Willis called the AHA to ask advice on how to adapt it for younger children.

Oak Hill participates in events during half-days when parent-teacher conferences are scheduled. Students who raise at least $20 can stay in the gym from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on those days. Snacks are provided.

"It's just fun," said Precious Buddington, 10.

The Hoops program consists of relays and a pick-up game.

During the jump rope program, students participate in a talent contest with $100 in prizes available for the winners.

"I had four people - two spinning the rope and two did cartwheels while I did a back handspring," said McKenzie Rowland, 8.

Levi Willis, 9, won the jump rope talent show for his speedy criss-crosses. He said he had a good reason to participate.

"It's important to raise the money because my papa had a stroke and the money goes to help people like him."

Arena-Willis said she and other teachers try to provide the students with specific examples of why money should be collected for research on heart conditions. For instance, a former Oak Hill student who is now in middle school has had multiple open-heart surgeries.

"We raised money for Ms. Bogle," said Auliver Astin, 9.

Angie Bogle, bookkeeper at Oak Hill, recently had a heart attack.

Kristian Hopson, 9, raised the most money at Oak Hill. He raised $190.

"My neighbors donated some," Hopson said. "We [parents and I] went to their houses and asked - I asked at least nine or 10 people."

Arena-Willis said she was amazed at the money the students were able to raise. Although it is not as much as the school raised last year, she said she was still impressed with the amount collected in a tight economy.

"I don't do anything out of the ordinary," Arena-Willis said. "I just have a group of kids who understand the importance of giving back and what a blessing it is not to suffer."