By JUDY SHERARD

jsherard@dailynews.net

Gourd decorating is a family affair at Washington Elementary School.

It is one activity in which parents and siblings are encouraged to help the student, said Marla Deines, Washington ESOL teacher.

The school has been celebrating autumn with a decorated gourd contest and parade for more than 20 years, Washington Principal Allen Park said.

"At the time, gourds were less expensive than pumpkins, and they come in different shapes," he said. "Students can get more creative. They look different when you turn them different ways."

Each student gets to select a gourd to decorate, Deines said.

A few families opt out of the project because they don't celebrate Halloween, Park said.

Otherwise every child in every grade participates.

On Wednesday afternoon, festivities kicked off with the kindergartners carrying their gourds through the first-grade classroom where those students joined them, and so on with the parade line growing as it wound through the classrooms.

The kindergarten students usually start out making gourds with traditional looking designs, Deines said.

"Every year, they get more extravagant," she said.

The older students like the project as much as the younger ones.

Barbara Begler's fourth-grade students "love it. They can't wait."

Students choose the top three gourds in each class for entry in the all-school contest. Judging of the numbered entries by staff and community members was Wednesday morning. The gourds could be placed on one of three categories -- most creative, scariest and best overall.

After the parade, the students returned their gourds to their classroom before going to the gym, where the winners were announced.

Justus Nelson's entry of an unidentified flying gourd was named most creative; Kaylee Sustaita's skeleton was the scariest; and Yandel Cano's haunted house was selected best overall.