Three hundred coconuts, and Layla Lamehart is hoping to nab one.

But the 11th-grader will have to be really lucky to get one of the coconuts she and other students in her McKinley High School art class decorated to be handed out at the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club's Mardi Gras Day parade Tuesday in New Orleans. The parade starts at 8 a.m. at South Claiborne and Jackson avenues.

First, Lamehart will first have to identify Dean of Students Greg Thompson, who'll be handing them out.

"I'm not sure they'll be able to tell who I am," Thompson says. "I'll be in costume as one of the Walking Warriors, and I'll be handing out the coconuts."

But Thompson will have an advantage over float-riding members.

"I'll get to hand out coconuts to whomever I want," he says, smiling. 

Meaning, if he recognizes Lamehart along the parade route, she might get one of the coconuts she designed or at least one designed by her classmates.

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Decorating Zulu's coconuts has been the main project in Christopher Turner's art classes in the final weeks leading up to Mardi Gras. The project came about after Turner learned Thompson is a member of one of New Orleans' most historic carnival groups.

"I thought this would be an opportunity for the kids not only to do an art project but to learn about the culture," Turner says. "It also gives them a chance to become a part of history."

Coconuts are the club's most coveted throws, called "golden nuggets" by paradegoers.

Zulu began throwing coconuts in the early 1900s. Its members couldn't afford the handmade glass necklaces tossed by more affluent krewes at the time, so it purchased inexpensive coconuts from the French Market.

The tradition of painting and individually decorating the coconuts began in the 1940s, and they've since become one of the most popular prizes of the season.

"I found out that our fashion department was designing Mr. Thompson's coat for the parade, so I asked if we could paint the coconuts," Turner says. "He came in the next day with a bag of coconuts and set them down."

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All of the coconuts have been hollowed out and painted gold, black or silver. Turner researched the krewe's past coconut designs and printed out a few for the students to use as a guide but not a mandate.

Milliceyn Jackson, a junior, spelled out "Zulu" in red glitter on her coconut.

"I wanted to make it unique, to give it a little sparkle," she says. "It's going to become a part of history, and that feels pretty good. I'm also excited about all the people who are going to see our artwork in the parade."

Dionne Wilson, like Lamehart, will be at the parade. The junior says she also hopes to get one of her coconuts along the parade route and will easily recognize the silver Z she painted in glitter on her latest coconut.

Thompson will be walking, with his coconuts following in a U-Haul.

"The Walking Warriors gather up some coconuts from the trailer and hand them out along the way, then we go back for more," he says. 

Those lucky enough to get a coconut and who want to know if it was designed at McKinley High can look for a rubber-stamped M on it.

"McKinley High is now part of Mardi Gras history," Turner says. 

Follow Robin Miller on Twitter, @rmillerbr.