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How to get kids to read? Principal lets herself be made a mummy

The 560 Fricano Primary School pupils gathered in the Starpoint High School auditorium Tuesday were rapt as Principal Bonnie Calamita was transformed into a mummy.

Calamita was fulfilling her promise to the kids, who accumulated 200,000 minutes of reading time at home over the past three weeks -- reading for at least 20 minutes every evening with their parents or siblings as part of the district's Parents as Reading Partners Program.

It was a slapstick but accurate version of the mummification process, and Calamita was a big mess in the end -- cleansed by a garden hose wielded by two firefighters, her body covered with body-preserving salts, goopy globs of a sealing resin (chocolate pudding) and wrapped pretty much head to toe like a fancy mummy, with colorful rolls of cloth.

Kindergartners and first- and second-graders laughed and squealed with delight at every step of the mummification process. They cheered as art teacher Patrick Root -- one of the evil geniuses behind the to-do -- asked his audience if Calamita was washed down enough, salted down enough or sealed with enough resin.

The script was very funny.

An ancient pharaoh played by School Superintendent C. Douglas Whelan marched into the auditorium and onto the stage in pharaoh's garb, preceded by a slave throwing rose petals across his path and followed by his secretary, Ruth Pirinelli, cooling him with a huge fan.

Calamita also was dressed up as an ancient Egyptian. At one point she and the children were dancing Egyptian -- as seen in Egyptian frescoes, with arms squared and angled and fingers pointed -- prior to her mummification. The program featured the pop song, "Walk Like an Egyptian."

Everybody got into the act as Whelan read the directions to mummifying a body, directing that Calamita be washed and her brains and organs be removed.

When Root asked if there was "a doctor around that could help," gym teacher Kevin Caputi charged forward.

"I'm just about a doctor. I've had a lot of surgeries. I've had my knee fixed, my neck fixed. . . . I'm an expert." Caputi said.

Root, apparently satisfied, asked if anyone had tools to help Caputi extract Calamita's brains. But Caputi, waving a toilet plunger, said, "This tool works with everything," and proceeded to 'extract a chipmunk, a light bulb, a balloon and a long feather scarf from Calamita's head. The kids loved it.

By the end, Root asked the kids if they wanted Calamita, now mummified, taken to a pyramid where "she'd have to stay for 4,000 years."

The children spared her that commitment and sent her back to school -- carried in a cardboard mummy case by four teachers in Egyptian garb.

Calamita conceded she enjoys doing something silly every year to encourage her kids to read.

And this was the fifth year she sacrificed her dignity for the kids. Four years ago she kissed a cow on the mouth. Three years ago she was slimed. Two years ago she was made into a hamburger with plenty of condiments. And last year she was turned into a Jackson Pollock painting.

What will it be next year?

Root said, "That's top secret. But I'll tell you this. It will be magical."

e-mail: pwestmoore@buffnews.com

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