Zebra-striped candy bags.
A cardboard Jeep in the lobby.
Intricate paperbag vines draped overhead.
What was going on at Belleville's Cathedral Grade School? Standardized testing week.
Teachers Sue Ratkewicz and Sandy Casson came up with a "jungle theme to encourage and inspire second- through eighth-graders to relax, have a little fun and get through those fill-in-the-circle, all-morning tests in an upbeat way.
"The games they played at the pep rally were a huge hit," said principal Linda Hobbs.
Hands-on activities reinforced test-taking tips. To illustrate how to darken a circle completely, kids competed to fill the inside of a hula hoop with shaving cream.
"We were going to use whipped cream," said Sandy, who teaches sixth grade, "but we changed to shaving cream. We did a pie-in-the-face with whipped cream (for Catholic Schools week). We knew how sticky that can be."
For the eat-a-hearty-breakfast tip, there were egg-on-a-spoon relay races.
For get plenty of sleep, students put on pjs over their uniforms, climbed into sleeping bags and rolled their way down mats. "We had a spotted team and a striped team," said Sandy. "Teachers wore animal prints and safari hats."
One tip students still remembered from last year: Relax, don't hold your pencils with a death grip.
"They say their hands get so tired when they take the test," said Sandy. "We ended with a tug of war, stripes versus spots."
Sandy and Sue, who teaches fourth grade, spent time after school and over the weekend decking out the school with brown paper vines. Shop N Save donated more than 300 bags.
A dozen students helped decorate.
"We got blisters," said Kyla Norton, 11.
"But it was all worth it," said Cami Lindauer, 11.
"The vines everywhere turned out to be a lot and very awesome," said Abigail Scrivner, 11.
Kyla noted the decor's "wow" factor.
They wrapped walls in jungle prints, put a cardboard Jeep in the lobby and turned an umbrella into the foliage end of a palm tree, adding construction paper leaves.
"The little kids love looking at it," said principal Linda. "The second-graders get excited that they get to be part of it."
"I know the kids look forward to testing now and don't dread it," said Sue. "Hopefully, that will help with the results."
Students learn how they did at November report card time. Abigail rated the tets "sometimes hard, sometimes very easy."
The timed element makes students nervous, but decorating was a pleasant distraction.
"Helping and being able to see what it all looks like is really cool," said Abigail.
The week leading up to the tests, creativity came into play when classes competed in a decorate-your-classroom-door contest. Fifth and seventh grades tied.
The fifth-graders built a dragon around a doorknob. To open the door, open the dragon's mouth. Seventh-graders offered two upbeat messages -- "Reach for your goals" and "Don't go bananas over tests" -- mixed into a tree full of bananas and monkeys.
Both classes win a pizza party.
Snacks with a clever twist were also part of the jungle equation.
Each Cathedral teacher found an animal print bag of candy hanging on her door Monday morning. The attached note read, "Kiss the testing jitters goodbye," and instructed teachers to give each student three chocolate kisses during a testing break.
The next day's message: "Good luck, today. Enjoy your jungle animals."
The treat? Animal crackers.