Hamagrael has heart

Hamagrael Elementary School doesn't take the health risks associated with a lack of physical activity sitting down.

The American Heart Association recently named the Bethlehem elementary school the winner of the prestigious Heart Healthy School Award, given for a schoolwide dedication to heart health and overall wellness via the Heart Association's educational programs and physical activities.

Only one Heart Healthy School Award is given out annually in the entire country.

According to Jeffrey A. Masline, the American Heart Association Regional Director, Youth Markets, Hamagrael deserves the honor because of its steadfast and proactive commitment to the health of all staff members and students. Masline, who works with schools in 14 counties, including Albany County, nominated the school for the award.

A few years ago, the school formed a Healthy Kids Committee. Spearheaded by physical education teacher Chris Berschwinger, the committee's work led to a variety of fitness-related activities and educational programs such as the use of American Heart Association materials in physical education and classroom settings; a student Fit Club designed to get students who do not participate in intramurals to embrace a physically active lifestyle; a parent nutrition committee that has met with the district's Food Services Director Tom Cook to discuss nutrition in the cafeteria; and a school-wide Healthy Steps program featuring a walking path in and around the school.

In addition, the school participates annually in the Jump Rope for Heart fundraiser of the American Heart Association. This past year, Hamagrael raised $11,082.91 -- and nearly $30,000 total over the past three years " for the Heart Association's lifesaving heart and stroke research efforts through student involvement in the Jump Rope for Heart program.

"This could not have been accomplished without the support of the principal, the PE staff, the school staff and the community as a whole," Masline said in describing the school's accomplishments in his nomination letter. "They have all rolled up their sleeves, gotten past their differences with regards to health/wellness and worked together to achieve their goal of a healthier school."

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