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For This Bunny, It's a Matter of Principal

March 26, 1989|MARY BARBER | Times Staff Writer

For some children, the Easter Bunny is six feet tall, carries a bullhorn and leads a parade of police officers onto their playground.

It happened that way at Emerson Elementary School in Rosemead last week, when an egg hunt broke with tradition to take on new meaning.

Principal Bruce Davis said he wasn't satisfied with the usual secular Easter celebration as a way to acquaint the school's many new immigrant students with American customs. So he added some new elements.

"It just took off. Everybody wanted to get into it," Davis said Wednesday from within a fuzzy pink bunny suit as he handed carrots to bewildered guests.

Newly Immigrated Families

Emerson School is in the Garvey School District, which includes Rosemead and portions of Monterey Park, San Gabriel and South San Gabriel. The district, which has 7,313 students, is 54% Latino and 39% Asian. Many of its students are from newly immigrated families.

Davis said he had thought about an egg hunt, "and then I thought about literacy, and I wondered how I could bring them together.

Davis also wanted to help change perceptions about the police.

"I've had a good feeling about police for a long time," he said. "I think they suffer greatly for what they have to do. A lot of these kids come from places where they're afraid of police, and I wanted them to have the same good feeling I have."

Putting these disparate elements together was surprisingly easy, he said.

First he asked Nichols Egg Ranch in Arcadia for eggs, and received 1,000 as a gift. Then he asked the financial firm Shearson Lehman Hutton to contribute $1 for each egg, with the money to go to Literacy for All Monterey Park (LAMP), which provides tutors for non-reading adults. Dan Gallagher, a financial analyst at Shearson's Pasadena office, contributed the $1,000 in his firm's name.

Davis then asked the Monterey Park Police Department and Temple City Sheriff's Station to send 21 officers, one for each class at the school, so the children could get acquainted with them.

"I thought this would be a hard sell but they just grabbed at the chance," Davis said.

The Parent-Teachers Assn. and LAMP volunteers boiled, dyed and hid eggs. A costume store in South Pasadena donated the principal's bunny costume. A trophy company donated plaques to honor donors and volunteers. A school supply company donated a book for each classroom.

Egg Hunt Instructions

"I didn't even have to ask for a lot of these things. They just happened," said Davis.

Teachers coached children for several days on how many real eggs they were allowed to find (two), how many paper eggs (unlimited), what colors to look for (one color to a class), and not to run.

The results on Wednesday morning had some people marveling. Davis led the police onto the playground where students lined the edges, awaiting his orders via bullhorn, to begin the hunt.

Rules were obeyed, everyone got at least one real egg and most found paper eggs. A few hidden eggs were stepped on, everyone smiled and nobody cried.

"I've never seen anything like this," said Arlene Bitely, who served on the Garvey school board for 30 years. "It's such an imaginative idea and there's so much excitement."

Police officers wandered around carrying baskets made by the students, patting heads, grinning and checking each others' baskets.

As he watched fellow officers locate eggs, Sheriff's Deputy Harold Flynt, with an empty basket, accused them of "doing some counter-surveillance. They knew where the eggs were planted. Or else they knew the Easter Bunny real well."

Asked what he thought of the idea of a rabbit laying colored eggs for children to find, a boy who identified himself only as Tran said, "I like it. I don't get it, but I like it."

Talk to a Class

Each police officer and deputy was assigned to a classroom to talk to the children for a few minutes, and then returned to duty.

"We get a good feeling out of this, as well as the kids," said Chuck Montoya, community service officer for the Monterey Park police. "It gives us a chance to not be in an adversarial role."

Sheriff's Deputy Eric Giambalvo said, "It's great to see kids get excited about something like this. The ones I usually see are on the streets, and they're in trouble."

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