PORTAGE — The youngsters at Jones Elementary School in Portage were jumping up and down and dancing on the pavilion, clapping their hands and laughing as they grooved to "Cake by the Ocean," by DNCE, and "Uptown Funk," by Bruno Mars.

It was a fun day at the elementary school as the entire school — all 393 students in kindergarten through sixth grade, teachers and staff — and other members of the community celebrated with an end-of-the-year Walk-A-Thon on Thursday.

Jones first-grade teacher Gwen Colville said the festivities were held in celebration of having raised more than $11,000 to provide programs such as Animal Adventures, magicians and visiting authors to inspire young writers, along with other convocations for the entire student body.

"The kids have worked so hard academically and to raise these funds, and we had some businesses who even donated $1,000 to the school so we wanted to do something special for the students," she said.

In addition to the walks around the playground behind the school building, local DJ Michael Kelly played the students' favorite music, and there was face-painting, a bounce house and snow cones.

Jones Principal Kristen Doty said it was a fundraiser for the PTO because the school didn't have a lot of extra money this year to do extra things for the students.

"We wanted to do something big, one big fundraiser for our school," she said.

"Several teachers and I began the planning process in January. We sent home pledge sheets to the students and promised them a reward if they were able to raise $100. The reward was that winning students would get a ride in a limo and lunch at McDonald's."

Doty said the school received tons of $100 donations and several $1,000 donations from local businesses. There were a number of community volunteers on tap for the event, including from local churches, Kohls, parents and the Portage police and fire departments.

Doty said the goal was $8,000 and they far exceeded their goal.

Each of the students received a T-shirt with the list of donors on the back.

First-grader Khalil Crockett said he thought it was good. "I walked. I want the snow cone. I'm going to face painting next," he said.

Fifth-grade buddies Bry Papageorge, Lily Dube and Natalie Robinson said they were enjoying the Walk-A-Thon, and all of the activities.

Bry said, "We talked to several businesses who donated money to the school."

Natalie said, "This gives kids an opportunity to connect and talk together and make new friends that you hadn't previously met."

Portage firefighter/paramedic Randy DeYoung said the firefighters came out to volunteer because it gives them an opportunity to mingle with students. "We're going from station to station. This for a good cause and it gives us a chance to spend time with the youngsters," he said. 

Parents Javier and Kristie Ayala, whose fifth-grader Nicholas was busy going through the different stations, said these are really fun activities for the youngsters.

"It gets them out on the playground, and they get a chance to do something other than running home and playing video games," Javier Ayala said. "I thought there was just going to be the walks but there are so many more activities for the kids to do, including an area for them to dance and the bounce house."

Added Kristie Ayala, "We wanted to donate to make sure that kids have a chance to have great opportunities and activities next year."

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Education reporter

Carmen is an award-winning journalist who has worked at The Times newspaper for 20 years. Before that she also had stints at The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., The Post-Tribune and The News Dispatch in Michigan City.