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A Frog Went A Courtin' at Crestwood

There was a frog, and there was Principal Pat Zissios' lips. As part of the student/principal agreement, the two had to meet.

Since Crestwood students raised enough funds this year in the fund-raiser, Zissios said she'd kiss a frog, and the students held her to it. To conclude their Veterans Day celebration, on Tuesday, Nov. 11, Zissios planted a smacker right on the frog. The students went wild.

Cindy Mannucci was one of the parents that put the whole thing together. By word of mouth, somebody got a frog on loan from Hidden Pond Nature Center and put the wheels in motion.

"One of the incentives was for Dr. Zissios kissing the frog. She's a good sport," Mannucci said.

In her tenure of the widely diversified Crestwood Elementary School in Springfield, Zissios has immersed herself in the activities at Crestwood, turning an elementary school into a centerpiece of the community. In addition to a school that offers all-day kindergarten and after-school programs, it has incorporated the Crestwood Family Center in the trailers out back as well.

The Family Center promotes self-reliance in families and individuals by providing knowledge and resources geared toward individual needs. Local agencies and volunteers make it work with minimal county funding. Volunteers are needed for tutoring, parent-child activities, health activities, cooking and job-search skills.

Zissios has received several awards for her achievements at Crestwood.

Last time Zissios did something to inspire the students, it was a dunk tank. Needless to say, she took a swim. Initially, she made the frog challenge at Open House in September.

"I've had my share of ridiculous [antics], but it's an incentive," Zissios said.

Shaquella Slaughter, 12, weighed the pluses and minuses of the dare.

"If there was a prince involved, yeah," she said.

Natalie Trodden, 11, heard rumors about the size of the frog.

"The frog's that big," she said, stretching out her hands.

Mannucci confirmed the rumors.

"It's big, and it stinks," she said.

RUMORS FLEW around that there was a prince, in the form of one of the fathers, Will Gallagher, in his USMC uniform.

"That's the prince," said Natalie Trodden, 11, pointing to Gallagher.

Gallagher was on hand to celebrate Veterans Day with the students, as were several members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars chapter in Springfield. The sixth-grade choir sang a few patriotic songs before Killian Gallagher got up and hammered out "This Is My Country" on the electric guitar. They were all building up to the big frog moment.

Assistant principal Lauren Sheehy was standing by just in case.

"If she passes out, I'll have to take over and give it five kisses," she joked.

Sheehy had to contribute to the effort earlier in October.

"I had to wear a wig when they got to $10,000," she said.

The PTA fund-raiser supplies the students with the portion of their education that the state does not fund. Field trips fall under that umbrella, which cost about $5,000 for the year, according to Mannucci.

"That takes a big chunk of our budget," she said.

Students raised $17,458, but half of that goes back to the company that makes the products, Innsbrook Inc. Items the students sold included wrapping paper, chocolates, cookies and small gifts. Three classes sold over $1,000, and individual top sellers were Nicholas Nanalig and Amanda Layton, who each sold over $1,000 worth of goods.

"We purchased a climbing wall last year," said Mannucci.

A hush came over the cafeteria as Zissios puckered up. She had a pair of wax lips, but the students and parents cried foul, forcing Zissios to discard them. It was over in a flash, as Zissios scrambled for a tissue afterward.