It’s become a much loved tradition at Bert Raney Elementary; raising money for heart health. Ever since physical education teacher Mary Grey joined the district back in the 1980s, she has played the leading role in educating students about the importance of keeping a healthy heart through positive lifestyle choices, physical exercise, and healthy diet.

There were some changes this year, namely that the event is now known as the “Kids Health Challenge.” The event is still sponsored by the American Heart Association, and the kids still raise money for heart health. The big difference is that now, “American Heart is giving us flexibility in choosing the activities that we cover with our students,” Grey explained. Also, due to the high number of snow days this year, Grey decided not to hold a large reveal celebration. Instead, she did mini-reveals with each of her classes.

Grey decided to break down different activities for each grade level. This year, Kindergarten did jump rope, first grade played at manipulative stations, second grade practiced with parachute routines set to music, third grade played basketball, fourth grade did team building exercises, and fifth grade played floor hockey.

After all was said and done, the students collectively raised a grand total of $23,421.58. Based on an equation developed by the American Heart Association, this translates to 468 lives saved thanks to the hard work of the community. The number one fundraiser this year was fifth grader Conner Olson who raised an astonishing $1,061.

“Every year I try to have someone speak to the students concerning a heart health issue that they have experienced personally,” Grey said, adding that “this takes place at the "Kick-Off" in January as a school-wide assembly.” Mark Jensen, who works at Thrivent Financial, recently experienced a heart attack, and Grey asked him if he would like to share his story with the BRE students.

Jensen agreed to this, and even did one better. “Along with his talk, he challenged the children to reach their goal of $27,500. If they did, he would contribute $1 for every student in our building,” explained Grey. Although the students didn’t make it to their goal, Jensen went ahead with the donation of $350 anyway, something that Grey said she was very grateful for.

“Saving 468 lives and raising over $23,000 doesn't just happen on its own,” Grey said. “I would like to thank: Mark Jensen for speaking to our students about his heart story and Thrivent Financial's generous donation, the staff at BRE for their flexibility during the ‘craziness’ of the event, the parents and community of Granite Falls through the never failing support of the children while they work to make a difference in their lives and the lives of others, and of course, the students!” She added that she was “personally touched” by their willingness to help others. “My hope is that, in the years to come, you will look back and understand the impact you have made on others and the importance of a heart healthy life for yourself,” she added.

For Grey, the other positive for the Kids Health Challenge is the valuable information they learn along the way. Grey explained that she teaches the kids important information about the heart, possible threats such as heart diseases, and what to look for when somebody is suffering from a stroke or heart attack. She also worked with students on learning the best ways to take care of your heart and certain food and drink to avoid. New instructional components this year included the social-emotional learning. This approach stresses clear verbal communication, conflict resolution, teamwork and cooperation, active Listening, assertiveness, and fairness.

To learn more about heart health, or how to get involved, check out the American Heart Association website at