Promise Fellow Week Great Stories: A Grade to Dye For
June 19, 2015
AmeriCorps Promise Fellow Joe Pendal, serving at Burnsville High School
student on my Focus List has made some progress in attendance and core academics … but not consistently, and not without going backward. She can be apathetic to the point of finding breathing too taxing. Her best friend is a decent student, who could do even better if she weren’t self-conscious about being smart. I’ve gotten to know both well … they hear what I am saying and show their own ability to strategize and progress..
My student’s friend scored a low D on her English vocabulary midterm. She needed to do well on the vocab final to protect herself from dropping into the D range overall in the class. We were talking about this, both girls and I. The friend asked what I would give her if she passed the final. I said my heartiest congratulations and be proud of her. She smiled and said: I mean something that matters.
So, I thought for a moment. And I asked if she really thought a soda, burrito or candy bar would make a difference to how much she prepared. She thought for a moment. My student thought for a moment. And almost together they both said: probably not. Then I suggested maybe there was something I could do, something silly or serious, but some way to celebrate her accomplishment. My student suggested: how about if she gets an 85 or better you color your hair? Yeah, the friend said … color your hair.
I didn’t blink an eye, and said yes. They suggested pastel colors, really wanting purple. I got them to accept orange … that way I could always be excused for coloring my hair because orange is a primary color of my struggling New York Mets.
She surpassed the 85 mark to score a 94! That score pushed her to a C+ overall … less than a week later she handed in a couple late assignments and sits with a B-. And as I write this, I sit with orange hair.
My student didn’t think I would go through with it, so when they came in the day after the score was posted, she was surprised by my citrusy-looking head of hair. Interestingly, her friend was not surprised. My student said she thought I’d chicken out because I might get teased; her friend said she knew I would because she believed me when I said I would. What surprised her the most was that instead of spraying orange in my hair, or powdering in chalk, I went ahead and used the so-called permanent coloring.
When I asked her why she thought I did the dye instead of something easily washed out, she thought for a moment, and knocked me over with this: Because, you wanted to show us that you are all in. Committed to us, like we need to be committed to ourselves.