The music was thumping. The auditorium was packed with screaming, jumping kids. Then a man comes out on stage and whips his hair back and forth, sending the kids into even more pronounced screaming!
And then … he gets a haircut.
But this wasn’t just any haircut. This was Roanoke Avenue Elementary School principal Tom Payton paying off his end of the bargain in his annual reading challenge with students.
Since 2006, Mr. Payton has made it an annual tradition to challenge his students to read a certain number of minutes during “reading week,” and if they do, he does something entertaining/embarrassing in a public assembly in front of the entire school.
Last year, they hit him in the face with pies. In years past, he’s dressed in a chicken costume and danced to the “Chicken Dance,” worn a clown suit and rode a small triangle on stage, let kids pour sticky chocolate syrup and whipped cream all over him, and he shaved off most of his hair in his first challenge.
He was running out of ideas.
“This year was hard coming up with an idea,” he said. “I didn’t come up with something until winter break.”
A few weeks ago, he decided to put off his trip to the barber and let his hair grow. He finally had an idea for the challenge.
“I’ve already done the ‘shave your head’ thing, so I had to ramp it up this year,” he said just prior to taking the stage. “So I decided to go with a fade, with the word ‘read’ in there.”
The kids held up their end of the bargain, as they do every year. Mr. Payton challenged them to read 60,000 minutes, 10,000 more than last year’s challenge, and the count was at 62,000 minutes after counting the first four days of the five-day reading week, Mr. Payton said.
So the fade was on.
Barber Jermaine Moore of Platinum haircutters in Riverhead did the honors, saving Mr. Payton’s hair tight on both sides, but carving in the word “READ” on the right side.
The children jumped up and down, chanting “Read! Read! Read!” or “You need a haircut” while the shearing took place, and disco music blared.
“You asked why do I do this?” Mr. Payton said to a reporter afterward. “You saw their reaction, didn’t you? I’ll do this every year. I’m so proud of them.”
And in the end, he said he felt lighter, and his wife liked the new hairdo, too.