WHEELING, W.Va.- (WTRF) It certainly has been a tough year for everyone and what a better way to spend the end of the school year than with some costume dress-up fun for kids at River Elementary. 

According to River Elementary Teacher Mike Kelley, “This was a difficult year for many of our students and staff and dealing with the pandemic and other issues that have come along. So, it was just a way to end strong to end happy and most of it all to let the kids know that we’re in this together.  It’s about a family here at the school.”

River Elementary Principal Eric James was tickled pink when teacher Mike Kelley approached him with an idea to help boost morale at the end of the school year. 

“He said I want to do something fun for the kids and knowing Mike, like I know him, I knew it was going to be something good,” says James, “I was actually just looking forward to see what he would do and when he came up with that the first day I drove in here to work and in the early morning hours I saw him and I just gave the thumbs up. I was like great job. That’s good stuff.”

Principal James says Kelley is certainly a one of kind. 

According to James, “He brings in an element of just good vibes to our building in the midst of you know some pretty difficult situations. Mike is just one of those individuals in our building who people tend to lean on in times of need. Mike is an outside of the box thinker and he brings a new realm of ideas and really does a great job of inputting those particular ideas into our staff here in the building.”

 Each morning Kelley greeted students during the last two weeks of school with a giant grin in an array of costumes.   
Kelley says, “So on Day 9 and I started off by just wearing some summer apparel and just saying, ‘Nine Days ‘Til Summer Break.’ For the eighth day, I had a campfire and s’mores and it was, ‘8 S’more Days ‘Til Summer Break.’ For Day 7, I dressed up as a pirate and then I had a sign that said, ‘Arr, There Are Seven Days Remaining Matey’ and for Day 6, that was a monkey, and it just said, ‘Hang In There Six More Days’ and had little monkeys hanging on branches for my sign. Day 5, I didn’t dress up for Day 5 because it was a remote day and there were no students here. Then for Day 4 was the astronaut and I had, ‘Four Days Until Blast Off.’  For Day 3, I dressed up as a pig for, ‘Three Little Piggies Left.’ For Day 2, it was, ‘Taco Tuesday’ and I had a hat that had a taco on it. And then for one Day 1 left, I did Batman which was, ‘One Dark Night Left.’ And then for the last day was a Jewish robe just telling the kids, ‘The End Is Here’ and celebrating the last day of school.”

All of these costumes had to cost money, but Mr. Kelley didn’t mind. 

The humble Kelley continues, “Amazon was my friend in this and I spent about $200 and some of them I already had, some I didn’t, so it was kind of mixing what I had and getting some additional materials and my kids love to dress up so I know that I’ll be able to give all the costumes to my kids to wear all summer long and they’ll enjoy it.” 

So many costumes, so much excitement, but there’s one in particular the kids say they liked the best. 

Kelley says with exuberation, “It’s Taco Tuesday. There’s only two days left in the school year. We’re going to get through this together. We’re going to finish this school year strong and we’re going to have a great summer break when it gets here. Just two more days guys. You got this.”
Eighth grader Carter Piatt says, “Personally, I liked the taco outfit the best because I liked his hat and his sign said, ‘Taco Two More Days’ and I thought that was really fun.” 

Eighth grader Mallory Brake says, “It was very colorful and he looked like a taco and he was also playing Mexican music so it made it really Mexican themed.”

Fourth grader Chailyn Still says, “My favorite was the taco because it was really colorful and I really like tacos.” 

Piatt also says, “I thought it was very fun and a nice way to end the year for such a challenging year for all of us. It just brings more joy to everyone’s faces and makes everybody smile.” 

Then there were some students who liked something different. 

According to third grader Kendall Jones, “My favorite costume was the astronaut because I like seeing astronauts and rockets blasting off into the sky.”

Which one did Mr. Kelley prefer? 

“My favorite costume was the pirate. That was very comical to stand out there with a pirate hat and tell the kids to walk the plank as they entered the school. That was that one of my favorite times,” he says.

His bond with the kids is undeniable. 

“This has been a great experience just to help me bond even closer with the students getting to know them even better. Just putting smiles on their faces each day. For some of our students this was a rough year and seeing them smile every morning let me know that I was making a small change in their life. Something small and positive and that’s what we’re about here is making small changes to just get through this day and be a successful student each and every day,” says Kelley.

Could there be a return of this masked man next year? 

He also says, “I’ve been asked by several of the staff here to make this a yearly tradition which I probably will. I was even asked by some parents to start doing this the first day of school. I don’t know how that would work yet, but that’s something over the summer break I will think about it and come up with some new ideas to start the year off strong and help us to launch the school year off to a be a great success as well.”

“I will look forward to next year because if they do it again it will bring another smile to my face,” says Jones.

Brake adds, “Yeah, it would be fun if he did it next year too and the years after that.”

Kelley says, “It helps the kids stay kids and that’s one of the things we tried to enforce here in the school is that yes there’s a lot of craziness going on in the world today with the pandemic, but for our students they’re still kids and they’re still dealing with these situations and we’re helping them through it and helping them to know that it’s okay to smile, it’s okay to be happy, it’s okay to enjoy the little things in life and to just make the most of each day.” 

Digital Exclusive