Heart health lessons with “Crush” the mastiff and more at Pickerington Ridgeview STEM

We believe student voice (and teacher voice) matters. Today, we’re trying out a new approach to amplify these stories. Click below to listen to this piece as a podcast and let us know what you think in the comments.

“People aren’t being as heart-healthy as they should be,” explained eighth grader Mackensie Clark, “so we want people to get used to doing that so they will be heart-healthy, so they won’t have a heart attack or have a stroke.” 

Mackensie is participating in our statewide design challenge, sponsored by the American Heart Association. We visited Pickerington Ridgeview STEM Junior High on their “Hook Day.” All through the school, students were going from room to room, learning about different aspects of heart health. 

Crush is an English Mastiff, weighing in at 170 pounds and only four years old. She’s unfazed by anyone and anything – a total gentle giant. 


“We’ve seen through statistics and therapy techniques that dogs are a great way to get that barrier broken down between students, staff, and administrators,” explained Taylor, one of Crush’s handlers. “We’re able to get kids to open up about things at home that they normally probably wouldn’t open up about with us with.” 

Crush regularly ambles through the high school, providing an opportunity for students to open up and relax. At the middle school, she’s an example of managing stress, which can have a huge effect on blood pressure and heart health.  


Diet, exercise, and genetics play a large role as well. Jodie Martinez set up a sugar lab in her health class, laying out Ziploc bags of sugar next to common snacks so students could see how much sugar is hidden in their everyday diet. 

“I think they’re pretty shocked, seeing the amount of sugar in the items that they’re eating.” 

As a veteran health, PE, and exercise science teacher, she suggested that they cut back a bit. Sugar is a key player in raising their chance of getting heart disease. 

At another station, Students were trained in CPR, then learned how to use an AED, an automated external defibrillator. 

“It shocks you back to life, basically,” Mackensie explained. She already knew how to use them – her mom is a nurse, but the experience got her thinking. “There are some people, they don’t know where the AEDs are in the school. So… if it happened to me, and someone didn’t know where to go, it would be scary!” 

She’s excited about the contest and thinks that most of her peers are too. 

“Some students put it to their heart, like they have someone in their family that might have heart disease, so they really think about it.” 

Some other students may be less enthusiastic, but Mackensie is adamant about the issue. “We need more people to care!” 

The student solution showcase is just around the corner, so we’re not sharing too much about her plan to address heart health in her community. Let’s just say determined, and not the least bit stressed. 


“I’ve heard that there are two other groups trying to do the same idea as us, and I’m pretty confident that we are going to make ours – not better, per se, but make it… why ours should be picked and theirs shouldn’t.” 

Listen to the podcast on SoundCloud.

Scroll to Top