Celebrating 35 years of heart health through "Jump Rope for Heart"

MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- Chances are you've at least heard of "Jump Rope for Heart"- a program in schools all over the country that raises money for the American Heart Association and encourages kids to exercise daily. A little known fact about it though is that started right here in Milwaukee.

35 years ago, a gym teacher at what was then Riverside High School, now Riverside University High School, was asked to come up with an idea.

“Could you come up with something that shows the public that good things go on in the schools,” Jean Barkow remembers being asked.

Barkow formulated her plan, went to the American Heart Association, and gathered 127 kids for the first “Jump Rope for Heart” event.

35 years later, it is being done all over the country and has raised more that $750 million for the American Heart Association.

“Never did I expect that I had that little idea in 1977 to come to this!” said Barkow. “I can't believe it. I was just a little old teacher.”

Jean Barkow was a physical education teacher when she started this, and has since stopped teaching. But Friday, she was back at her former school to celebrate 35 years of “Jump Rope for Heart.” And while she was there, she got a huge surprise -- the gym she taught in for all those years is now named after her.

“Anybody can follow the trail but not everybody can make the trail. Jean made the trail,” said Dr. Gregory Thornton, the Superintendent of Milwaukee Public Schools.

Last year 28,000 schools participated in the program.