2007-06-14 / Front Page
Principal goes purple, then bald for his students
Middle school efforts help raise $8,842 for Habitat for Humanity
BY JENNIFER KOHLHEPP
Even though it sounds like it, Upper Freehold Regional Middle School Principal Mark Guterl didn't go completely bonkers on May 30. In the beginning of May, he gave his 120 eighth-grade students an extra incentive for helping the Trenton chapter of Habitat for Humanity, a nonprofit organization that provides the capital and skills necessary to renovate or build simple, affordable homes for those who are without adequate housing.
The kids had been collecting money for Habitat for Humanity for their service learning project. Guterl further challenged the students to raise between $5,000 and $10,000 for Habitat for Humanity by May 24.
"As an added incentive, I told them that if they raised $5,000 I would dye my hair for a day," Guterl said. "For $10,000, I would shave my head."
"They raised that money in four weeks," Guterl said. "For any grade level or any group of people that's wonderful."
To raise the money, students toted around "habitat" boxes and collected donations. They also asked for sponsorships for a walk they took part in May 9 at Byron Johnson Park. People donated a minimum of $10 per lap around the park.
Guterl said that the amount of money the students raised will pay for one-eighth of a house for a family in need.
"It's neat to put it in that perspective," Guterl said.
To keep his end of the promise, Guterl let the students choose his new hair color. For shock value, he said, they chose a purple hue that was actually more of a fuchsia color, he said.
Valerie Nebbia, of Salon Extraordinaire, dyed Guterl's hair in the main office on May 30. Guterl called an 11 a.m. assembly in the auditorium and then walked out on stage to reveal his new, vibrant locks.
"I appeared on stage to kids cheering and looking stunned," Guterl said.
Guterl stunned the students even more when he announced that he would shave off his hair.
"Although I set the goal at $10,000, the kids needed to know that I was proud of them," he said. "They came in closer to the $10,000 mark than the $5,000 mark, so I had my head shaved in front of them."
Eighth-grader Anthony Tallarido had raised the most amount of money, so he got to clip off the first chunk of Guterl's hair.
Guterl said he didn't have really long hair to begin with, but "now that it is short all around, you can see the difference," he said.
When asked what his wife thinks about his new haircut, Guterl said, "My wife was happy I did it. She thought it was a cool thing to do."
He continued, "She wants me to grow it back now."
Guterl said he and his students may not have fully realized how extreme and permanent his actions were until a few days after May 30, when all of the hair dye washed out, leaving him with the short buzz cut.
"It definitely is a symbol of solidarity," Guterl said.
Guterl, who just began serving as the school's principal this year, but who previously served for 2 1/2 years as the school's vice principal, said he has experienced a lot of firsts with the eighth-graders.
"For one, they made me shave my head, but this year they also did a lot of other little things and were exceptional in the degree that they did them," he said.
Eighth-grade graduation on June 19 will be bittersweet for Guterl.
"I'm happy to see them moving forward, but saddened at the same time because they really are a top-notch group of kids," he said.
He continued, "I'm happy to see them moving on to bigger and better things, but I hope they won't be strangers."