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Pupils relish lady burger Principal served on bun is payoff for having improved reading skills

It's become very apparent that Fricano Primary School Principal Bonnie Calamita is willing to do anything, suffer almost any indignity, if it fosters a love of reading in her pupils.

Two years ago, she kissed a calf on the mouth. Last year, she was slimed.

Tuesday, in the Starpoint Middle School auditorium, Calamita hopped into a giant hamburger bun, wearing a fuchsia blouse, black slacks and swimming goggles. Then she let an eager crew adorn her with lettuce, tomatoes and cheese and pour vats of mayonnaise, mustard, relish and ketchup over her head.

Lots of ketchup.

And voila! A Calamitaburger.

"Mrs. Calamita! You look delicious," art teacher Patrick Root said when the deed was done.

All 560 kindergarten, first- and second-grade pupils screamed out deafening cheers and squealed with joy each time Calamita was slathered with a condiment, especially when the mayo turned her head white, the mustard turned it yellow, and the ketchup bathed it red.

The event was marked by a guest appearance by Ronald McDonald, who the pupils were told flew in from McDonaldland. Welcomed with a loud roar, Ronald said he couldn't resist showing up when he heard Calamita was being turned into a cheeseburger.

A teacher dressed in a Hamburglar's costume tried to steal the Calamitaburger but couldn't because it was too big.

Ronald saved the day when Mr. Bear, a grizzlylike creature who often haunts Fricano's hallways, could not find the ketchup. When Root asked the crowd if anyone had some, Ronald, amid the crowd of cheering pupils, led an entourage up to the stage with a giant vat.

"I can't see a thing," Calamita said as the last drop of ketchup hit, "but I'm doing OK."

Calamita underwent her transformation because she promised pupils she would if they, as a group, spent more that 150,000 minutes last month reading with their parents as part of the school's Parents As Reading Partners program. That meant reading daily.

"They love it," the principal said. "They talk about it constantly. It's a good way to get them reading at home. One boy got a migraine from reading so much. And honestly, this is the age you have to get them interested in reading. You have to develop that love for reading right from the get-go. I think this helps do that."

Something's working. Calamita said she has seen improvement in reading scores for her second-graders since she came to Fricano three years ago.

"We've been giving them a test on New York State standards in English language arts, and their scores have improved by 6 percent," Calamita said.

While she can't say her stunts have contributed, Calamita said, "I'd like to believe kissing a cow, getting slimed and being turned in a cheeseburger have helped. I feel it's worth it if it's having an impact."

Root said the Fricano staff is already preparing for next year's reading extravaganza.

"We have an extra special dirty plan for Mrs. Calamita if the kids do their reading," he said but declined to comment further. "It's top secret," he said.

e-mail: pwestmoore@buffnews.com

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