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Shake, Rattle and Raise

Beverly Farms fifth-graders Hannah Cooper and Rebecca Gimble have seen it all now. Last Wednesday, they cheered and clapped as Elvis Presley crooned “Love Me Tender” to one of their favorite teachers, Elaine Cutler.

“She’s really amazing. She’s nice but she’s strict,” Hannah said.

“We like the fact that she’s strict,” Rebecca added.

Hannah and Rebecca were among the students chanting, “Mrs. Cutler” when Elvis called Cutler to the front of the Beverly Farms auditorium in the midst of a five-song set. She needed some convincing, and Elvis sensed her reluctance. “She says no, but I says yes,” the King said, and Cutler was finally persuaded. She sat next to Elvis at the piano for “Love Me Tender.”

“CATCH YOUR BREATH, baby, everything’s gonna be all right,” Elvis told Cutler when she returned to her seat at the song’s end.

The King was there to make good on an agreement with Beverly Farms Principal Laura Siegelbaum, who wanted to kick-start a schoolwide read-a-thon that will raise money for new playground equipment at the school. The monkey bars at Beverly Farms were crushed by a fallen tree during Hurricane Isabel in 2003. Replacing them will cost an estimated $25,000, and Beverly Farms currently stands in a queue behind dozens of county schools that need playground repairs.

Now Elvis was doing his bit to help out. He arrived in a white-and-gold, Vegas-era outfit, and launched into “Jailhouse Rock,” then serenaded a giant, stuffed hound dog with the appropriate Elvis tune.

BEFORE THE FOURTH song, Elvis needed a rest. “We’re gonna dance up a big ol’ storm, but I’ve gotta eat first,” he told the crowd as phys ed teacher Jeff Pergason fixed the King one of his signature peanut butter-and-banana sandwiches. Then it was time for “Blue Suede Shoes,” and more than a dozen Beverly Farms students were invited onstage to dance to the tune. Fifth-grader Spencer Ralph was a crowd favorite, doing “The Worm” breakdancing move.

The crowd cheered for an encore, and Elvis complied with a second “Blue Suede Shoes,” this time inviting all willing teachers to dance onstage. After the last number, Elvis removed his wig and sunglasses to reveal his true identity — instrumental music teacher Phil Collins. It was the first public Elvis impersonation for Collins, who directed the “Blast From the Past” music revue at Winston Churchill high school from 1990-2000.

The King was gone and the school day over, but the read-a-thon was underway at Beverly Farms. Participating students will seek pledges from friends, neighbors and family for each book they read, and all proceeds will go to a fund to purchase replacement playground equipment.

“I’ll bet you by the end of February, you’ll have raised enough money so we can get some new monkey bars,” Siegelbaum told the students.