After a month of learning about cardiovascular health and raising funds for the American Heart Association as part of its Jump Rope for Heart event in gym class, 8-year-old Marsh Elementary School student Eva McKnight knows well the importance of heart health.

Eva was the school's top individual raiser, bringing in $180 for the fight against heart disease. She and nine others, all of whom brought in $65 or more, were rewarded with a chance to silly string Marsh Principal Joseph Giardina at the Jump Rope for Heart assembly Feb. 14.

But while Eva said it was fun silly stringing her principal and jumping rope in gym class, her biggest thrill came from giving back.

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"I like to exercise, but most of all I like to help kids ... that have heart situations and body situations," Eva said.

Eva was one of about 90 students who participated in the Feb. 14 event. She and the others cycled through several fitness stations like the box jump, rope ladder and long jump, showcasing their newfound exercise knowledge for parents and friends.

The event was the culmination of a month of lessons on heart health and various jump rope-oriented exercises taught by physical education teacher Doug Scholder.

That the program helps get the kids active and involves them in a good cause makes it a quality addition to the curriculum, Scholder said.

"It kind of gets a couple of birds with one stone, because we're able to do good and the kids can feel good about donating and things like that," Scholder said. "It's also good because we bring awareness to health and fitness and heart health and how to keep the heart healthy."

Marsh had collected $2,300 as of the assembly, and Scholder said he will continue to accept donations through Feb. 22. Last year, the school raised $2,739 to rank sixth among participating schools in Cape May and Atlantic counties.

Eva's father, Pat, proudly snapped pictures of his daughter as she moved through the stations at the assembly. Also attending were Eva's grandparents, Mary and Bill Woods, of Ocean City, and her aunt, Liz Woods, of Mays Landing.

Pat said he and his family are always glad to support Eva and her school.

"It's terrific that Eva has an opportunity to help out, and anytime we can do something with the school and be part of the school, it's a big thing," McKnight said. "It's a big deal to us."

Marsh School has participated in the Jump Rope for Heart campaign for about 10 years now, Giardina said, during which time it has become a major event.

Building a sense of community through such events is a focus at Marsh, Giardina said, and the fact the program is for a good cause makes it a good fit in Absecon.

"We've always liked to give our school to a good cause," said Giardina, who lives in Absecon. "We've done many of them this year, but this has just been a wonderful relationship. It's a win-win."

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