MUNSTER — The fourth-graders sat ready in their white and blue lab coats, sleeves rolled, with their little fingers gloved and ready.

“This doesn’t look like a heart,” one student said, as teacher Ruth LaBuda distributed preserved sheeps’ hearts to each of six tables.

At Elliott Elementary School, the fourth grade class scrubbed up to participate in the school’s annual Heart Day.

A precursor to the students’ body systems unit covering the circulatory system, about 85 Elliott fourth-graders rotated through three classroom activities teaching heart anatomy and health

Dr. Sunthorn Muangmingsuk — a pediatric cardiologist at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn who’s led heart dissections in the school since his oldest daughter last sat in LaBuda’s classroom 12 years ago — said he always looks forward to the event.

“Kids love it,” Muangmingsuk said. “They get excited to see the real heart and prepare for the possibility that it might light up something in them.”

Students had the opportunity to dive in with Muangmingsuk and five of his pediatric cardiology fellows, as the doctor taught about heart structure, blood flow and preventative heart health through the sheep heart dissections. Split into six groups, fellows at each table pointed out the heart’s atria and ventricles, and answered students questions.

“Is this what a human heart looks like?” one student asked.

“How big is a bee’s heart?” another asked.

“The best part is the good questions they always ask,” Muangmingsuk said.

Elsewhere in the school, students bounced together in jumping jacks and frogger exercises led by Michael Casey, an Orangetheory fitness instructor and Elliott parent.

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Students shared their own exercise habits — biking trails with family and practicing with sports teams — and Casey explained to the fourth-graders why blood flows more quickly during exercise.

“Why is your heart beating faster when you exercise?” Casey asked the students. “It’s trying to deliver more blood to all those working muscles.”

Next door, Rachel Savage, a dietitian with Community Hospital, held up a model cheeseburger in one hand and a plate of grapes, carrots, tilapia and a small brownie in the other.

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“Which one do you think has the most calories?”

“The cheeseburger!” most students shouted, stumped by the question.

“This is actually a trick question,” Savage said. “They’re actually about the same, but which one lets you eat more?”

Savage explained how healthful eating can allow for a fuller plate, and explained the importance of reviewing nutrition labels for food products. Then, the students completed a blind taste test of several regular versus low fat items like string cheese and oreos.

“I like to make sure they understand you get to eat more when you’re eating healthier,” Savage said. “And, they’re very open to it.”

At the end of the morning, LaBuda said she was impressed with students’ engagement in the activities. She said it’s one reason the school continues to offer Heart Day every year.

“They asked such good questions,” LaBuda said. “They asked things that I didn’t even think to ask.”

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Education Reporter

Carley Lanich covers education in Lake County and throughout the Region. She comes to Northwest Indiana from Indianapolis and is an IU-Bloomington grad.