Halloween. It’s a tough topic in some quarters in education. I’ve worked at schools where it was one of the worst days of the year for administrators like me, confiscating Jason’s carving knife, counseling pregnant nuns, and persuading the masses that togas might not be a fantastic idea at school.
At one high school I followed a fellow in a full gorilla suit on a merry chase that led through and then off campus, ending in the parking lot of a run down apartment complex. When he was unmasked, like something out of a Scooby Doo cartoon, it turned out that he was a senior we’d expelled who was wanted by the police.
Don’t get me started on ninjas.
It doesn’t help that off the shelf costumes marketed to appeal to teens often carry the word “naughty” in their description: nurse, superhero, witch. For the fellows, gore, drag, or innuendo. A principal I once worked for used to say “I’d rather come in and work on Christmas day than deal with this Halloween nonsense.” Behind closed doors he did not use the word “nonsense.”
I’ve always tried to encourage homemade and clever over store bought raunch, and still, the water polo player covered in Hulk green body paint and wearing only a purple speedo…
So then I got to ACMA.
Folks told me that at our creative school Halloween was a national holiday.
I found out it is.
And getting ready for this year’s parade of creativity my office staff, my wife, and my kids all told me that as the principal I had to dress up.
As a substitute? I offered. No.
A petty bureaucrat? Nope.
Then one day in September when I’d tweeted some photos of student art, a couple of my staff spotted a painting and said that they had the answer.
The coffee wielding human staring down the …something fantastic and wild, they said, needed to be my costume.
Halloween arrived, face painted and trailing a cape.
I met it wearing a yellow bathrobe and sipping coffee from a green mug.
We started the day, as we had the year before, with music from Harry Potter, a recognizable and magical theme, played over the intercom. Walking the hallways was an adventure in color and creativity. A giant camera, David Bowie, and an amazing handcrafted wolf laughed alongside Dorothy, Toto, and one of the most elegant green faced witches I’d ever seen.
I started visiting classrooms. In one the Morton Salt Girl, Taako, and Bob Ross sat next to a Royal Guard from the Tower of London, a vampire with real fangs, and Little Red Riding Hood. Incredible.
I spotted two avocados, a giraffe, and a biker in black pleather. More than the usual plush ears and tails giggled through the hallways, rubbing shoulders with pirates, cowboys, and Bilbo Baggins.
Two matching Waldos asked if I wanted to play hide and seek.
Perhaps the most striking thing about Halloween at ACMA is the overwhelming creativity on display. These are wildly artistic students with talent to match their imaginations. The best costumes are always homemade, clever, and rooted in fun. Simple or complicated, big or subtle, this celebration of art is, at its best, a window into our collective soul.
As I strolled my radio crackled and I got the call that a history teacher, who would later arrive as a mummy, was held up in traffic. I had a chance to cover his AP US History class for a few minutes.
I unlocked the door and as students filed in, steampunk, cub scout, and zombie, there was the artist of my inspiration painting herself. It brought me no end of joy that she, and her peers, recognized my costume without explanation.
Magical things happen at our little school, sometimes on Halloween.