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    Students learn the ABCs of saying 'I do'

    An East Lake High School class plan and participate in a mock wedding. They learn how complicated - and expensive - getting married can be.

    [Times photos: Scott Keeler]
    Groom Daniel Reyes, 18, of Oldsmar, and bride Sara Paulo, 16, of Palm Harbor, leave their mock wedding ceremony Wednesday at East Lake High School.

    By LORRI HELFAND, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published December 20, 2001

    EAST LAKE -- Jackie Almeida's maid of honor had seen to all the details; but the night before the wedding, the jitters set in anyway.

    Almeida frantically called her friend.

    "I don't look right," she told maid of honor Jocelyn Brown.

    "You'll be fine. You look great," Brown reassured her.

    Brown was right. Everything was perfect for the double wedding ceremony, from the music and the decorations to the three-tiered cake with whipped-cream frosting.

    But the two couples who exchanged vows at this ceremony didn't promise undying love. They promised eternal friendship.

    That's because it was a mock wedding, the culmination of an East Lake High School family dynamics class, which teaches juniors and seniors about all facets of relationships. It's a seven-year tradition for Brenda C. Riggins, a family and consumer science teacher, and a 15-year tradition for East Lake High.

    The assignment was an eye-opener for many of Riggins' students.

    "It takes a lot of preparation. I always wanted to get married, but now I'm not sure," said Sara Paulo, 16, who exchanged friendship vows with her real-life boyfriend, Damien Reyes, 18.

    On Wednesday, hundreds of students lined the campus courtyard, where the ceremony opened with an a cappella love song sung by Jarvis Evans, 15.

    Bridesmaids and groomsmen filed by the courtyard rails, which were lined with lavender and white streamers. As the wedding march played, flower girl Emily Stafford, 4, from the campus preschool, tossed petals down the aisle. Ring bearer Dalton Hayes, 4, also from the preschool, held Paulo's train as the couples worked their way to the makeshift altar, where they exchanged vows.

    "I now pronounce you friends for life. Now you may hug your friend," said exceptional education teacher Jamie Joyner. The crowd giggled softly.

    Then it was back to the classroom for the reception, where students took part in such wedding traditions as making a best man's toast, catching the bouquet and feasting on the buffet, which was loaded with donated submarine sandwiches, pizza, brownies and homemade cookies.

    Reyes and Paulo share a piece of cake during their mock reception after the ceremony.

    The class planned the entire wedding, from service to reception, in one week. To pull this off, Riggins split the class into committees that were responsible for music, photos, food, bridal arrangements, decorations and invitations.

    The mock wedding showed Riggins' class just how expensive the real deal is. As part of their project, students had to get real price quotes.

    Mari Barrera, 17, said she got estimates as high as $4,000 for catering, a reception hall and a disc jockey.

    Even though it was a mock wedding, Sarah Sweeney, 17, said the students were "stressed out" by the project.

    "I wanted it to be really nice. It's a once-in-a-lifetime thing," she said. "It's also our grade."

    Committee reports, committee performances and individual contributions to the project all tallied into the students' final grades, Riggins said.

    The wedding is a "great attractor" for an elective course that covers everything from preventing unwanted pregnancies to nurturing successful relationships, she said.

    Mandy Frattalone, 17, who was on the food committee, said lessons from this class will stay with her after she finishes school.

    "This class is my most valuable class," she said. "I don't think I'm ever going to use trig."

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