In an all-school ceremony on Jan. 23, Jones Elementary physical education teachers Amy Vlcek and Ryan Barabasz received a plaque for their 2017 Illinois Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (IAHPERD) Jump Rope for Heart School of the Year award.
“It makes me proud to be a part of a community of people wanting to reach out and help others,” Jones Elementary Principal Rodney Hiser said.
Jones Elementary, in the Minooka Community Consolidated School District 201, has participated in Jump Rope for Heart since the school opened its doors eight years ago. In that time, the school has gone from a fundraised amount of $5,000 in 2009 to $30,000 in 2017 and has an average student participation rate of 425 students out of the 630 in the building.
“We keep raising money regardless of the economic status of our families,” Jones Elementary Assistant Principal Sarah Monroe said. “Our kids can tell you how to be heart healthy and they want to help kids with sick hearts to be healthy.”
This growth pattern caught the eye of the Jump Rope for Heart organization and the district representative Stefani White. During the 2017 JRFH event, always taking place in February, Mary Kennedy, Council of Future Professionals Advisor for IAHPERD visited Jones Elementary to witness the event to see how Vlcek and Barabasz set up, and what they did differently than other schools.
The school also was involved in a product test program, where the top earners of JRFH were allowed to play with and rate potential prizes for the following year’s JRFH.
Vlcek said once the school began the incentives program for JRFH, she noticed an increase in participation because the students received something tangible when they reached a goal.
Online registration was key, as well. It made donations possible via the internet which was convenient for parents and donors, and the ability to share the information via email and social media allowed family members and friends from across the country or globe to be a part of the event and fundraising efforts.
However, the staff and administration took the incentives a few steps further than the prizes offered through JRFH. For the past few years, there have been contests between classes to see who won the chance to pour ice cream on the head of a teacher or administrator, there has been a back flip challenge and, this year, the theme was monsters, so a slime challenge was accepted between two teams, Hiser and Barabasz and Vlcek and Monroe. But the coordinators did not stop there; the top earners get to battle a teacher in a pie-face showdown.
Vlcek said the school would not have received this award if it weren’t for the staff, administration and families who join alongside she and Barabasz. More than 100 volunteers showed up at the Feb. 13 event to twirl ropes. Some took one shift, some stayed for multiple shifts. She said the Jones Elementary staff and administration always have been up for her ideas to get the kids involved and have stressed the point of JRFH, to exercise and eat well to keep hearts healthy.
“The administration goes above and beyond to support me, not only in my building, but administration across the district. Also, the teachers area owed a lot of credit. They are always game for whatever crazy incentives I throw their way. They are super helpful if I need it, and they help me tremendously by passing things out for me. They are always supporting me, as well,” Vlcek said.
The good news did not stop with the school award. Vlcek was encouraged to apply for and won the Coordinator of the Year 2018 title through SHAPE America, which stands for Society of Health and Physical Educators. Jones Elementary has become a member of this group and due to the Vlcek’s success with JRFH, she was awarded the national title and will attend a conference in March in Nashville.
“I didn’t think I would win, so I put it off, but decided to do it with recommendation from Sarah and Rodney. I got an email Jan. 5 and said, ‘You are kidding,’ as I sat on the couch in my house after hip surgery,” Vlcek recalled. “They needed an answer if I could go to the conference so I called Dr. Monn (Minooka 201 Superintendent) and agreed to go.”
Hiser said of Vlcek, “This was well deserved. Amy works very hard on this program every year. She pushes the understanding that the heart is important to survive and gets kids pumped up and us pumped up, as well. The program has grown into something special and that was why she was recognized.”
Final totals have not been tallied for the JRFH at Jones Elementary on Feb. 13, but the first two weeks the fundraiser was open, $20,000 came in from students’ efforts.