GULFPORT — As the city winds down from its 11th annual GeckoFest, one question remains: Who is this little lizard that gets a party in its honor every year?
No doubt, the revelers at the annual street party had an opinion. But for the definitive answer, Elizabeth Neily, the "O-fish-al Gecko Goddess," turned to the students in Shana Smith's art classes at Admiral Farragut Academy.
"Why would the gecko live in Gulfport and what makes him so special?" Smith asked her pre-K through fifth-grade classes. Each class wrote a story collectively and then each student painted a picture to illustrate the story.
How did she get a roomful of eager and creative students to cooperate and produce only one story?
Smith said she went around the room, asking each child for an idea. She wrote each contribution on a whiteboard in the front of the classroom and then they all talked about how they could make the pieces fit together in one story.
"We kind of voted," Smith said. "It was written equally by everybody."
Here's what they came up with:
Start with One
The prekindergarteners' story revolves around a Super Gecko named "One" who saved the day and all her brothers and sisters (appropriately named Two, Three, Four and Five) with the help of the police and a magic great white shark who could swim in the sand.
Then move to 60,000
In the kindergarteners' story, the famous Gulfport gecko's name is Walker and she is a tightrope-walker with a jet pack. She was helped by the people of Gulfport who gave her $60,000 for a bus ticket and then helped her push a 600-headed monster into the water.
Fruit turns meanies nice
The first-graders envision the gecko as growing up on an island in a sea of bad people she made un-bad before being visited by a magical fairy who gave her powers to fly to Gulfport. There, she planted a tree whose fruit turned mean people nice. So, the GeckoFest celebrates her and the power of niceness.
A flying mayor
The second-graders' version stars a robot gecko who was scaring all the other geckos with his one red eye and one black eye. "They were so scared their brains went koo koo." It wasn't until the end of the story that it was revealed the robot gecko was actually a nice lizard who freaked out when his tail fell off and hid inside the robot costume. The mayor — who had been riding around town with his jet pack — proclaimed there would be a festival every year to honor the geckos.
Fire has a happy ending
The hero of the third-graders' story is a gecko who stowed away in a suitcase in Arizona and landed in an acrobatics class for geckos in Gulfport. She jumped into a house that was on fire and saved all the children inside — the mayor's children. To thank Whoosh the Wonder Gecko for her bravery, the mayor said there would be a festival in her honor every year.
Move over, Harry Potter
In the fourth-graders' story, aliens suck the daughter of the Great Goopius into their spaceship which lands in the center of Gulfport. All the geckos begin falling out of the ship, magic wands in their hands. They chant magical spells to make the spaceship blow up, saving Gulfport. The festival honors their bravery.
A world of knowledge
The fifth-graders wrote about a sad gecko named Hope who left Gulfport to travel the world. She went to England but they wanted to stomp her. Then she went to China, where her sticky feet helped her scale the Great Wall. She was revered by hula dancers in Hawaii before meeting the Grand Guru Gecko in India, who told her to return to Gulfport and share her talents. "Now she is celebrated by the town for helping so many people find peace, inner strength, happiness and, of course, Hope."
The drawings are on display at the Gulfport Arts Center.