“This event is dedicated to everyone who loves.”
– Marguerite Hopey, Weston Elementary kindergarten teacher
MANCHESTER, NH – Kindergartners from Marguerite Hopey’s class were up at the quack of dawn on Thursday. The big wedding they’d been planning for months, between star-crossed barnyard lover ducks Pierre and Plumpty, wasn’t going to run itself.
As all great love stories do, there is a fateful beginning to this duck tale: Two years ago, a couple of ducklings were hatched as a project in Hopey’s kindergarten classroom at Weston Elementary School. The ducklings went to live with Deb Ritchotte, known as Mimi to students and faculty. As a volunteer grandmother whose own children had flown the coop years ago, Ritchotte remained. She initiated the classroom hatching project with Hopey’s blessing about five years ago, something she thought would be educational and fun for the kids.
“I grew up on a farm, and felt like it would be a great experience for the kids,” said Ritchotte.
Of course there were science and nature lessons to be had. But Ritchotte also saw the potential for lessons on how to nurture and love something – in the same way children one day might find themselves participating in parental teamwork to tend their own wingless brood.
The project was a hit, and Hopey has welcomed annual hatchlings into the classroom ever since.
Plumpty, a fetching silver appleyard, and Pierre, a distinctive Dutch hookbill, went home to live with Ritchotte who has been bringing the ducks back for regular visits. As always, Ritchotte would talk with the children about what life was like, post-incubator, for the pair, who had obvious affection for one another.
“In conversation I explained that they love each other – that they are married,” says Ritchotte.
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Hopey interjected that she hadn’t been invited to the wedding, and from there, the duck wedding idea was hatched.
On Thursday, the meticulous planning culminated in the first duck wedding in Manchester School District history. Guests were greeted by TJ Karvelas and Jaxson Sage. Parents were escorted to their seats as “Wonderful World” by Louie Armstrong played, by ushers Andrew Mason and Colin Gott. Flower girls Ella Goonan, Alex Desautels and Jenalyse Pacheco scattered petals. Duck handlers Cameron Hodnett, Vera Hernandez, Kacie Schelzel and Nicolas Raymundo were tasked with making sure the bride and groom made it down the aisle and back – both were considered a flight risk. Maid of Honor Janessa Wagner, Best Man Evan Ducas, and Ring Bearer Emmett Goonan, offered moral support.
The gymnasium was transformed into a hall worthy of a Duck Dynasty hoedown, by student decorators Daniel Alvarez, Joshua Blais, Bradley Carey, Ryder Coulombe, Amelia DeRienze, Jaxon Esty, Aubrey Gray, Hannah Russell, Murat Shakhbandarov and Demetrios Vougias.
Parents donated time and talent for the handmade “duxedo” and gown worn by the quirky quacky couple, and ring bearer pillow. Reception pizza was donated by Pizza Market, and colorful balloon sprays by Chalifours.
Over the past several months students designed invitations for their parents, composed wedding vows, and created a reception menu. Math skills, to calculate how much food would be needed and to create seating charts for guests, were activated.
Principal Liz MacDonald was asked to officiate. Music teacher Amy Harkins took the childrens’ suggestions and created a wedding and reception playlist (now available on YouTube). Decorations and dance moves were handled by art class and gym class sessions.
As the ceremony began, the kindergartners – all dressed to impress – walked down the makeshift aisle in groups of two and three marked by crayon-colored traffic cones to “Rainbow Connection” by Kermit the Frog.
A gaggle of wedding crashers had gathered in the back of the gymnasium, who identified themselves as Weston teachers. They said they couldn’t resist the call of the wild.
“It feels like we’re part of something. It’s wonderful. It makes school fun and exciting for everyone” said Jennifer Ell, a fourth-grade teacher.
For those who might question the value of such an extravagant kindergarten project, teacher Erin McLaughlin said beyond the fun – and even the science – authentic learning was happening.
“All the things the kids did carry over into life – planning, preparing, calculating, writing,” she said. “And nurturing.”
Manchester Fire Chief Dan Goonan was there, not to enforce the capacity code or check for fowl odors in the building, but to capture a proud parent moment on video.
His twins, Emmett and Emma, are two of Hopey’s kindergartners.
“We’ve all been looking forward to this for months. We’ve been counting down how many more sleeps away the wedding day was – and this morning I was spiking Emmett’s hair as he got dressed up – he loves it,” said Goonan.
Kathy and Tom Karvelas Sr. had front-row seats. Their son was a greeter.
“When people see this kind of thing they don’t realize how much math and language and science go into it,” says Kathy Karvelas. “You have to look beyond the ceremony itself and see what went into deciding on the vows, measuring for the wedding dress – the whole process to get there.”
And the fun factor matters, as well, says Tom Karvelas. “You have to have fun, or kids don’t want to learn.”
Another parent, Jimmy Pacheco, said he took time off from his job at AutoFair where he does car detailing to be there for his daughter, Jenalyse.
“I honestly didn’t know what to tell my boss. So I just told him the truth, that my daughter had a school thing, and these ducks were getting married,” he said. “I thought it was amazing – and crazy – but amazing. They really pulled it off,” says Pacheco.
At that point it was all over except the dancing. Hopey introduced all the students by name and job title, reception style, leading up to Pierre and Plumpty, for the first time as duck husband and duck wife.
Their entrance song?
“Let Your Love Flow,” by the Bellamy Brothers, a song that celebrates the joy and warmth that love brings to the human experience.
Followed quickly by the chicken dance, which sent Pierre and Plumpty waddling off the dance floor as they ducked out the door.
For all the classroom hours spent explaining the life-cycle of ducks, the practicalities of planning, or how many inches of lace it takes to properly dress a duck, Mrs. Hopey’s students learned some mighty lessons – the best things in life take time, and planning. Ducks don’t like to chicken dance. And love is worth celebrating.
“Let your love fly like a bird on a wing,
And let your love bind you to all livin’ things,
And let your love shine and you’ll know what I mean,
That’s the reason.” – Bellamy Brothers