Hundreds of Iowa schools commit to heart health program

DESS MOINES — Thousands of Iowa elementary schoolers will be improving their physical and mental health — as well as their self-esteem — through a program called the Kids Heart Challenge.

Amy Knoll, school engagement director for the Iowa chapter of the American Heart Association, says the program gets kids moving through things like dance, jumping rope and basketball, while teaching them life-saving skills.   “Last year, we had 298 schools in Iowa that completed an event with us, and that was 11,847 students that took the challenge online, and that doesn’t include the kids that were offline,” Knoll says, “and we had 3,001 students watch our hands-only CPR video.”

The program employs eight colorful creatures, with each one teaching a lesson, including:  “The character Bolt wants you to move more. Flash wants you to drink more water and eat fruits and vegetables. Star wants you to sleep more. Skip wants you to skip out and say no to vaping and tobacco,” Knoll says. 

Youngsters taking part in the program can earn digital badges as well as keychains that feature the critters.  “So the idea is, if they have them hanging on their backpacks and then they go to grandma’s house, for example, and Grandma says, ‘What the heck are those little keychains?’, then they can say, ‘Oh, I’m glad you asked. Well, Flash wants us to remember to drink more water,’ and they can be the heart heroes and helping their families make heart healthy choices as well.” 

In addition to the CPR training, kids learn how to spot a stroke, ways to combat stress, and ideas for healthy eating. Knoll says studies find that kids who are regularly active will feel better, have improved mental health, build self-esteem, and are less likely to develop anxiety and depression.    “We know that helping others feels good, so starting at an earlier age to be part of something bigger than yourself, it just helps them be more confident and kind and leaders,” Knoll says. “We really want to start that at an early age as well, not only for the students, but for their families and for the staff in the school as well.”

There’s clear evidence the hands-on CPR program works, as Knoll says a five-year-old on the East Coast who recently took the course helped save the life of a man who collapsed from cardiac arrest while at church.

The program runs throughout the school year and Knoll says more Iowa schools are welcome to sign on at: