Every year about this time the principal at Chamberlain High School takes on a new identity: He dresses in overalls and calls himself "Uncle Elmo." Uncle Elmo, with a little help from some friends, stays up all night cooking barbecue chicken and pork to treat Chamberlain's senior class.
This is Uncle Elmo's _ er, Jim Gatlin's _ way of sending off his graduates. The day is called Senior Send-Off, and it's designed to discourage seniors from skipping school.
"It has been a good deterrent from skipping," said Manuel Tagliarini, a teacher at Chamberlain and one of the teachers who participated in the day's activities. "It is very successful and gets better and better every year."
Before the barbecue lunch, the seniors were treated to a talent show that showcased the skills of their teachers. They also viewed a video tape of their senior year, received awards and participated in games in the school's stadium. After eating, they jammed into the gym until the day's classes were over.
Mike Rappaport, 18, said it was great to have the teachers loosen up and have some fun.
"The teachers were really funny with their band and skits," he said.
Uncle Elmo's barbecue was also a great hit.
"Everyone likes it," said Steve Johnson, 17. "Having the whole day to ourselves shows that you can have fun in school."
The games of tug-of-war, apple bobbing, watermelon eating and egg toss also helped relieve some of the tension felt the last few days of school, said Faxon Bisset, 17.
Watching the activities from her seat in the stadium last week was Lisa Harper, 17, a senior eagerly awaiting graduation. Lisa was part of the gold team, one of three teams, that cheered their counterparts onto victory. The team that accumulated the most points got to eat lunch first.
William Hoyt, a member of the green team, helped his team win the watermelon-eating contest by scarfing up one chunk of watermelon after another while his teammates shouted encouragement from their seats.
Lisa says the whole idea of senior send-off day is awesome.
"I can't believe the teachers got together and did that (the talent show) for the students," she said. "And, Uncle Elmo, he calls himself that, teases us all year by telling us he is going to feed us chicken-feet soup."
Gatlin credits the parents with embracing the concept and supporting the school.
"They support us financially and volunteer their time," he said.