Editor's Note: The pig in this article belongs to associate editor Micah Danney.
Students at Landing Elementary School struggled to keep their cries of excitement under control at a special assembly Monday morning.
The children were instructed to keep their voices low so they wouldn't spook their guest, a one-and-a-half-year-old male pot-bellied pig named Junk.
Junk was on-hand to help interim principal Martin Malone fulfill a promise: if the school's students completed a collective 38,000 minutes of at-home reading in a two-week period, Malone would kiss a pig.
Malone got the idea serving as interim principal of an elementary school in the Lawrence Union Free School District.
"When I started there, I had all these kids coming up to me asking if I was going to kiss a pig. I thought, 'What are they talking about?'" he said.
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He learned that the school's previous principal had kissed a pig as a reward for students' successful completion of a reading challenge. When the PTA-sponsored Parents as Reading Partners challenge was introduced at Landing this year, Malone knew what would generate some enthusiasm.
Students were asked to read a school-wide total of 38,000 minutes at home and get their parents to sign off on their activity. When their time was calculated, they had reached 44,300 minutes, roughly equivalent to 15 minutes per student per school day during the challenge's two weeks.
Malone reached out to Marie Scarmato, whose son, Victor, is a student at Landing. Malone had heard the Scarmato's owned a pet pig, Bobby Bacon. Marie recommended Junk over Bobby due to Junk's more sociable disposition.
The Scarmato's took in Junk in October when this reporter was having difficulty finding housing in any area that did not have zoning prohibitions against livestock. Despite Junk's dog-like personality and habits, he is considered a farm animal by most zoning regulations.
By coincidence, or perhaps as proof of Long Island pot-bellied pig people's commitment to their squat companions and each other, Junk arrived at the Scarmato's via the same Suffolk County woman from who they adopted a 5-year-old Bobby several years ago, and who supplied the original pig for the Lawrence principal's kiss. The woman runs a rescue operation for pot-bellied pigs. She boarded Junk for a few weeks between the transition from his previous home to the Scarmato's, who reside in a private community in Glen Cove where zoning permits farm animals.
This network of suburban pig owners proved to make Malone's idea a reality. At the assembly, he sent his young audience into a frenzy by bringing his own Terrier mix on stage dressed as a pig. After a brief cool-down period, Junk was brought on-stage.
With a farmer's bandanna tied around his neck, Malone lowered himself to the pig's eye level. A delicate flirtation ensued. Malone tried to woo Junk with handfuls of grapes to students' eruptions of laughter. Several of Malone's advances were rejected by the agile young pig, who backed up and threw the principal a suspicious eye.
Malone finally landed a kiss on top of Junk's head, fulfilling his promise.
The spectacle was followed by an opportunity for each child to pet Junk, who stood patiently near the stage's edge as the entire school filed past. Interactions ranged from nervous pats on the head to gentle jiggling of the jowls. A few staff members leaned in for their own kisses.
The event proved to be a fun time for a new principal and a pig still settling into his new home, and gave the students something to talk about for the rest of the day.