Students and staff at the William Davies Middle School in Mays Landing have had a lot of fun over the past few months participating in events such as "Dress Down Day" and a staff vs. student dodgeball tournament.

But there was a serious reason for all the frivolity.

The activities were fundraising efforts for the American Heart Association and the Jennifer Ward Memorial Fund, two organizations dedicated to raising awareness about heart disease and sudden cardiac arrest.

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Language arts teacher Amy Carter, who helped spearhead the fundraising efforts, said the school and district participated in a variety of activities during the month of February to help spread awareness and raise money. Monthly activities included Wear Red Day, sponsored by the American Heart Association, and Wear Jeans Day on the Valentine's Day teacher in-service. Both of these activities required staff members to make a monetary donation, she said, which was very well supported.

Also, several staff members donated items or assembled raffle baskets for staff and also for students.

After the districtwide proceeds were collected and evenly split, both organizations received checks for $1,005.50. At the same time, the school was able to add three new automated external defibrillators to the building, bringing the school's total to six machines.

Two of the new machines were purchased through grants from the Hamilton Township Education Foundation, and the other one was donated by the foundation, Carter said.

School staff members and administrators met recently with Gerry Ward of the JWMF for the presentation of the new AEDs at the school.

School officials said they are proud of the fact that the school is so well prepared to deal with cardiac emergencies.

William Davies is one of the most progressive schools in the area in the number of AEDs it has on site and is at the forefront in compliance with a new state law to take effect next September, said Carter, a 15-year veteran of the school who is trained in CPR.

Sudden cardiac arrest is the leading cause of death in the United States, claiming close to 295,000 lives every year. Having an AED in place has significantly improved the survival rate in individuals that fall victim to SCA. It is proven that when AEDs and trained CPR bystanders are available immediately after someone collapses the chance of survival increases dramatically, Carter said.

The Davies School has felt the impact of heart disease in its own "school family." Longtime teacher Patricia Stard died of a heart attack in 2012 and there is a tree planted in her memory on school grounds. And the school's Michael H. Duberson Memorial Library is named for the longtime school educator and administrator who also died of heart disease.

"We've all had people in our lives affected by heart disease," said Principal Stephen Santilli, who has been at the school for three years. "This is a very passionate issue. We want to be proactive, not only for our students and staff, but for the entire school community."

Santilli, who is also in the process of getting recertified in CPR, said he feels good about the fact that the school has been able to double its number of AEDs this year, exceeding what is mandated by law. The two-story, 207,000-square-foot facility houses the district's sixth, seventh and eighth grade students and is located on a fairly large campus, he said, so the fact that these devices can be located and accessed at multiple locations is important.

New Jersey's "Janet's Law" requires all public and non-public schools to have automated external defibrillators, or AEDs, on site by September 2014. The law is named in memory of Janet Zilinski, an 11-year-old resident of northern New Jersey who died of sudden cardiac arrest on school grounds.

The law states that defibrillators must be accessible during the school day as well as during school-sponsored athletic events or team practices and within reasonable proximity to the school athletic field or gymnasium. In addition, schools must establish emergency action plans - or Code Blue Teams - to respond to sudden cardiac events in order to be as prepared as possible to deal with life-threatening emergencies.

The William Davies School is close to having a Code Blue Team in place already, said Santilli. He said the goal is to get as many teachers and staff as possible certified.

The Jennifer Ward Memorial Fund was established nine years ago in memory of Jennifer Ann Ward, a Wildwood teacher who died from sudden cardiac arrest, or SCA.

Carter was a close friend and worked with Ward's family to establish the non-profit organization dedicated to prevent SCA and to provide AEDs and CPR/AED training to public organizations in the South Jersey area.

Since its formation, the JWMF has placed 35 AEDs in private and public schools, places of worship, small businesses, recreational sports fields, amusement parks and public beaches. In addition, the organization has awarded more than $20,000 in scholarships to students in the South Jersey area.

The Jennifer Ward Memorial Fund is hosting a Spring Family Fun Day fundraiser from 2 to 10 p.m. May 17 at Fluharty's Buck Tavern, Route 50, in Corbin City. The event will feature food, kid friendly activities and live music. Tickets are $30 for adults, $10 for children ages 4 to 12, and free for children ages 3 and younger. For information call 609-602-5394 or email Amy Carter at cartera@

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