Thirteen male teachers at New Paltz High School brought an entirely new meaning to the phrase “Grow Local” last month. But this isn’t a Hudson Valley farm-to-table story; these guys took up a challenge to stop shaving their facial hair for the entire month of November in order to promote awareness of mens’ health issues. In challenging the status quo — beards and mustaches aren’t as popular these days as they once were, after all — “It opens up the conversation,” said Spanish teacher Rodrigo Castro. The unexpected adornment of facial hair on formerly clean-shaven men causes comments, which sparks discussion about the reasons for its appearance. And that’s a good thing, because matters of mens’ health, particularly prostate and testicular cancers, are not generally brought up in casual conversation.
In fact, said Castro, ask the men around you when was the last time they had a full medical check-up, and the answer is likely “not in a while.” Yet according to the American Cancer Society, one in 270 males will get testicular cancer in their lifetime and half of those cases are in men between the ages of 20 and 34, who can usually be treated and cured if it’s caught early. And prostate cancer is the second most common cancer in men, after skin cancer, but it can often be treated successfully if diagnosed.
That’s why the American Cancer Society (ACS) started “No-Shave November” to inspire men to pay attention to their health in the way that October has been established as Breast Cancer Awareness month to save the lives of women through awareness. The teachers at New Paltz High School participated through the Movember Foundation (not affiliated with ACS), whose goal is to “change the face of mens’ health” through education, tackling the gender-specific challenges of getting men and boys to take action early when it comes to their health. There’s a lot of playful wording involved — changing the “N” in November to an “M” for “mustache” and those participating earning the right to call themselves “Mo Bros” — but their dedication is serious. Since 2004, the organization has invested in more than 800 programs in 21 countries. And according to their website at www.Movember.com, the Movember Foundation raised $22.9 million last year in the U.S. alone and $559 million to date worldwide.
The participating teachers at New Paltz High who stopped shaving for a month contributed nearly $1,000 to the cause through their “Movember” project. Funds were raised by the school’s Interact Club — a junior version of Rotary Club — under the direction of their advisor, teacher Rod Castro. The students embraced the idea enthusiastically, he said, creating collection cans for each teacher who had accepted the challenge and staffing a table in the lunchroom to solicit donations from students and staff.
The Interact Club’s president, Fiona Bohan, and vice-president, Katherine Curtis, said they enjoyed getting involved with the event. “It’s not the typical cause you see in high school,” pointed out Bohan. Part of the challenge meant that the teachers who raised at least $80 got their beards dyed pink, so Bohan said they had fun rattling the coins in the cans and asking their fellow students, ‘Don’t you want to see the teachers with a pink beard?” Students could choose which teacher to support (or considering the “reward” of a pink beard, maybe that’s more like friendly retribution?)
Depending on how much money they raised, the teachers got to choose how they wanted the facial hair dealt with at the end of the event on Thursday, December 4, when professional barbers Andrew Sairrino and Fabian Cruz — partners in the new Good Fellas Barber Shop on North Front Street — donated their time to come to the school to professionally shave the teachers.
A system had been set up in advance to encourage the most fundraising — $40 to receive a complete shaving, $50 to get a “Fu Manchu” style, $60 for pork chops, $70 for “teacher’s choice” and $80 for the pink beard — but in the end, ten of the teachers got a complete shave and three (Kieran Bell, business; Matt Paley, math; and Joe Haas, math) liked their new facial hair so much they decided to keep it.
The event generated some friendly competition among the teachers, said Castro. Updates on funds raised were posted for all to see regularly. Social studies teacher Albert Cook brought in the most money, followed closely by English teacher Joe Dolan (who first introduced the concept of the “No-Shave November” to New Paltz High a few years ago), art teacher Todd Martin (who designed the group’s “Grow Local” tee-shirts, also sold to raise funds) and English teacher Joel Neden. Along with Castro, the five men all had their beards dyed pink (bleached first and then dyed with vegetable dye) at JEM Hair Studio in New Paltz. The other participating teachers were Joseph Foti, physics; Eliezer Espinosa, Spanish; Chad Foti, earth science, David Thibodeau, science; and Justin Finnegan, speech.
The shaving was conducted throughout the day on December 4, with each teacher arriving one by one for the big shave-off, some with students in tow to watch and all of them having their shave broadcast on the school’s television station.
The students watching had a lot of fun with it, even picking out “mood music” online to accompany the shaving. And at the school Talent Show a week earlier, when some of the bearded teachers got together to sing “Let It Grow,” a clever re-wording of the relentlessly catchy song “Let It Go” from the movie Frozen, a student christened the group “The Beardos.”
“It’s taken on a life of its own,” said Castro. “An entire storyline develops along with all of this.” And that’s the point, he adds, noting that every place they went (especially once the beards went pink) they had to explain what was going on, and that led to another point of awareness about mens’ health. “We hope to do it again next year, and extend it to all four school buildings; five if you count the district office. And we’d like to involve more students next year, and maybe link it with Breast Cancer Awareness month in October.”
And how did the spouses react to their bearded husbands? “We may have gotten some heat at home from our wives,” said Castro diplomatically.