Paul Lutchenkou and Claire Lorenz

Mt. Hebron seniors Paul Lutchenkou, 17, and Claire Lorenz, 17, are going to the prom together. (Kim Hairston, Baltimore Sun / April 24, 2014)

Mr. Paul, the teacher explained, wanted to invite Miss Claire to a princess ball.

For that, Tracy Aitken told her kindergartners at Hollifield Station Elementary, the high school senior needed their help.

The 22 children colored in letters. When Claire Lorenz, 17, arrived for her regular volunteer shift, the kids hoisted them over their heads: "WILL YOU GO TO PROM WITH ME?"

Nearby, Paul Lutchenkov, 17, stood with a bouquet.

"I just had the perfect opportunity. I knew I had to go for it," the Mount Hebron senior said of his proposal, which he planned by email with Aitken. "I knew it would make it special for Claire."

It's the season for scavenger hunts, banners unrolled at Orioles games, messages spelled out with glow sticks and bedsheets. In short, it's promposal time.

For those who remember asking a date to prom over the telephone — perhaps even one of those ancient corded ones — times have changed. These days, the invitation is nearly as important as the evening itself.

Prom proposals have become a rite of spring, with each year's invitations splashier than those before. Posting photos and videos of the proposals on sites such as Instagram and Tumblr is part of the appeal.

"Social media is such a big deal for our generation," said Liz-Ann Inglisa, a senior at Mount de Sales Academy, an all-girls Catholic school. "Everyone wants to do something cute and funny and put it up."

More than 31,000 people follow @ThePromposal on Twitter, which featured invitations spelled out with hockey pucks, pancakes, rose petals and playing cards in recent days. Some of the most clever ideas, such as a proposal scrawled in sauce across a platter of sushi, are shared and "favorited" hundreds of times.

Some students go to extraordinary lengths to craft a proposal. A California teenager drafted "Breaking Bad" star Bryan Cranston to make a video asking a girl to prom for him. And a York, Pa., student was suspended this month after asking Miss America at a school assembly to accompany him to the dance.

It seems almost anyone can be touched by — or enlisted in — a promposal.

"My kindergartners are my favorite people, so it was perfect," said Lorenz, a Mount Hebron senior who hopes to be a teacher. "I asked the kids if they approved and they said, 'Yes.' So I did, too."

Since that day a couple of weeks ago, the children have been asking about the event, which, to their minds, conjures up images of castles and coaches and Cinderella dresses.

"Every day, they say, 'Have you been to the ball yet, Miss Claire?'" she said.

Riley Meekins, a senior at Mount de Sales, is a bit of a prom expert after attending five last year as a junior.

"It's kind of a competition — who can come up with the coolest idea?" Meekins said of the elaborate invitation. "It's almost necessary to do now."

Last year, Meekins hung a banner made from a bedsheet from the window of her home to ask her now-boyfriend to prom. He, in turn, mowed "PROM?" into a hillside of his parents' farm.

This year, Meekins, a 17-year-old Catonsville resident, upped the ante by spelling out "PROM?" with a dozen strands of Christmas lights on the same field.

"I was actually in cahoots with his mom for two weeks to plan it out," said Meekins, who also enlisted the help of her mother and three friends to bring the spectacle to fruition.