BEAVERTON — The American Heart Association is honoring students at Valley Catholic Elementary School for raising more than $36,000 in the Kids Heart Challenge.

The initiative is a curriculum aimed at improving physical and emotional well-being while raising funds for heart research. While core activities focus on heart and brain health, this year a special emphasis was put on being kind and staying active.

“The Kids Heart Challenge teaches kids the importance of health, community service, and helping others – empowering young people to do great things,” said Melissa Doxtator, principal of Valley Catholic Elementary. “These values echo Valley Catholic’s engaging, supportive, and faith-based education experience. We are so impressed by what these kids have accomplished.”

More than 200 Valley Catholic students took part at school and from home to learn about heart, brain, lung and social and emotional health. Of the 219 participants, 123 focused on completing an act of kindness each day, while 96 stayed active for 60 minutes daily. In addition, 25 students learned CPR and signs of stroke.

Valley Catholic has participated in the Kids Heart Challenge for six years. The program is led by Doxtator; Sarah Davis, vice principal; and Melissa Efstathiou and Eric Holstrom, both physical education teachers.

“Students need resources to support their physical and mental health,” said Holstrom. “The Kids Heart Challenge creates a fun sense of community and these kids met the challenge.”

Because more than 100 students signed up, Holstrom kept his promise and shaved his beard.

Valley Catholic students raised $36,269, the highest of any participating school in Oregon and Southwest Washington.

Studies have shown physical activity can improve mental health and lessen children’s anxiety and depression – two issues that have been of increasing concern to parents and educators during the COVID-19 pandemic.