WESTCHASE – They are jumping for joy at Bryant Elementary School. Students are jumping rope every day to raise money for victims of heart disease, as they have done in the past. But this year, they have a very special reason.
Primarily, the money raised will help Bryant art teacher Chan Bliss, who recently underwent a quadruple bypass. But while he’s been recuperating, he’s been growing a beard that has him looking like a cast member of “Duck Dynasty.” And the child who raises the most money gets to cut off his beard when Bliss returns to school.
The stakes are high. The Hillsborough County school system has held the Jump Rope for the Heart campaign each year for 35 years. The students at Bryant have raised the most money in all of Florida the past three years and the most in the county for nine of the past 10. And the students have gotten creative – they have even come up with personal websites to allow people to donate.
Teachers Tom Michael and Jay Silbert run the physical education program and spend plenty of time outside watching kids jump rope while a little classic rock music plays in the background.
The whole project will culminate with an event on March 7. Silbert said they were hoping athletes and celebrities from the Tampa Bay area would attend, and he said that they would love to have some professional athletes stop by. Every year has had a different theme and, this year, it is Duck Dynasty.
“We give them a special goal every year,” Silbert said. One time they dressed us up like ice cream sundaes. Another year, the kids painted their teachers’ hair. “We make it fun for them. It’s a good way of getting exercise early in the morning.”
The kids might have their incentives, but Michael said the children also know the real reason behind what they are doing.
“They know their teacher, but they also understand that they are going to be helping people they don’t know,” Michael said. “The kids all know people who have struggled with heart disease and we’re lucky that they are so enthusiastic about helping out.”
The students are learning plenty about heart disease.
“I’m jumping because heart sickness is such a serious problem,” said fifth-grader George Weatherald. “If we try hard enough maybe less people will die.”
Heart disease hit close to home for fifth-grader Brooke Hertsman.
“My grandpa has heart disease,” Brooke said. “I just want to help him get better.”
Bryant has set a goal of raising a new record this year. Last year it raised more than $30,000. This year, the goal is $35,000.
“These kids are working so hard for their teacher and total strangers,” Michael said. “They should be proud.’’