Amphitheater Public Schools Superintendent Vicki Balentine didn't let heels and a skirt stop her from "pumping it up" with 500 elementary students from Mesa Verde Elementary School, 1661 W. Sage St., Feb. 11.

"Ladies and gentlemen," the announcer yelled into a microphone, "It's Dr. Balentine on the long rope!"

Balentine joined the Mesa Verde students, teachers and Principal Foster Hepler at the 14th annual Healthy Heart Day to celebrate healthy hearts. The exercisers used pogo sticks, jump ropes, hula hoops and other formats to get their heart rates up. They worked out continuously for 90 minutes to music blasted across the field by fifth-grade teacher Don Curry, who created a special CD for the event.

First-grader Joshua Schelle, dressed up and introduced by Mesa Verde's physical education teacher Anne Wheaton as "an actual beating heart," helped open the event by doing jumping jacks while his classmates sang a two-minute song about keeping hearts strong and healthy.

Hepler jogged around the the field with a horde of third-graders, and event coordinator Anne Wheaton, decked out in jogging tights and an American Heart Association T-shirt, jumped among the children, chanting encouragement.

"This is coordinated with the American Heart Association's Jump/Hoop for Hearts," said Wheaton, "but we have expanded it to include other events and to integrate language arts through the writing of the rhymes and performing songs."

The Mesa Verde students had the options of hula hooping, jogging, endurance jump roping, pogo sticking or playing basketball to exercise their hearts, Wheaton said. In addition, the special education students who are restricted to wheelchairs or have other physical challenges have adaptive activities, such as tennis rackets with balls attached to them or upper-body aerobics, developed for them to participate in the event, she said.

"Be your best is our school motto, so we use that to motivate the kids with this event," Wheaton said. "Then the teachers work to integrate our theme - 'Keep jumping to keep your healthy heart pumping' - into language arts. Sometimes the teachers write the poem or the kids do it and sometimes the older kids come up with raps to perform. Each class has the option of performing while we are exercising, but they don't have to do it. Most of them do."

Wheaton said her inspiration for starting the event 14 years ago was the observation that society seemed to be getting fatter and exercising less. That still motivates her today.

"With the obesity and malnutrition in this country from poor eating and exercising habits, this is a day when I can hopefully get people excited about being in shape," she said. "It is a day for us to come out and celebrate fun and fitness."

Alisha Robert, 9, said she really liked the event "because it's more fun than school - normally I'd be in math!"

Her classmate, Nick Percy, agreed.

"This is a lot more fun because you don't have to work your brain," he said. "Sometimes you think so much in school, your brain hurts."

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