Woodland faculty growing Hair for Haiti

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BEACON FALLS — Every year atop the hill at Woodland, a select few teachers, led by English teacher Paul Geary, grow out their beards during midterm week in January. This year was no different—Geary, English teacher James Amato and history teacher Chris Tomlin all put down their razors prior to the four-day midterm exam week. Instead of shaving their scruffy beards after testing, though, the facial hair stayed—and it turned into Beards for Bucks, a fundraiser for Haiti relief.

The fundraiser, also known as Hair for Haiti, is a month-long event co-sponsored by the Woodland Regional Student Council and Woodland for Women Worldwide, in which teachers essentially grow the best facial hair possible while students cast $1 votes for their favorite beards. And, yes, this one-of-a-kind phenomenon all grew from the triumvirate’s annual ritual.

“We think of it as our NHL-style playoff beards,” Geary said. “This is our style of playoff beard to show solidarity with the kids during midterm week. But then it turned into so much more. We decided to use our beards for good instead of evil—we wanted to raise money for the Haitian cause and have fun.”

Geary wasn’t sure where to go with the situation at first, but after contacting a few of the male faculty with beards, “we got crazy,” he said, and asked all of the male staff to participate. Almost all of them are.

It wouldn’t be fair, Geary said, if the recruits had to join the event immediately and compete with the well-seasoned fuzz of Geary, Amato, and Tomlin, so they decided to stagger the participants in different waves to allow everybody to grow a proper beard.

“We based the model on the 1980s WWF-style Royal Rumble,” Geary said. “Instead of a new wrestler entering every two minutes, a new wave of teachers enters the competition every week.”

Photos of all teachers—complete with personal messages to students—participating each week are posted along with collection cans in the Hawk’s Nest outside the cafeteria during lunch periods every day. Students vote for their favorite teacher’s beard by donating money to the teacher’s can. Each dollar is one vote.

Teachers who normally do not sport facial hair need to garner $50 each week in order to stay in the competition and grow their beards another week. But two faculty members known for their trademark whiskers—science teacher Ross Cooper and guidance counselor Mark Dandelske—have pledged to shave if they earn $250.

Helping Geary run the fundraiser are the WRSC and WWW. The latter is a global activist group, based at Woodland, that was originally planned as an enrichment program for the Contemporary World Issues course but has since expanded under the leadership of humanities teachers Lisa Olivere and Deborah Flaherty. Olivere said WWW jumped at the opportunity to help this unique cause.

“One of the things that makes Woodland a special place is that we care about people not just in our community, but in the world,” Olivere said. “When [Geary] and Amato thought about what was happening in Haiti, they immediately reached out to WWW. They asked if there was any way if we could help out, and we said absolutely.”

The WRSC also voted to support the fundraiser in a January meeting, led by WWW and WRSC member Sara Hughes. The senior took the initiative to schedule students to collect money during lunch waves and advertise the event.

“Student Council is supporting this to help rebuild a nation,” Hughes said. “They can use the help. They’re going through really hard times, and every little bit counts.”

Nearing the end of the second week of the competition, which ends before break, on Feb. 12, several teachers have earned the required $50 to maintain the beards. Geary is pleased by the success thus far but said he doesn’t have a particular goal in mind.

“I haven’t set a goal as far as a number, but I feel students here want a way to help the people of Haiti,” Geary said. “We’re trying to give them an avenue to do that, and they’re responding.”

While the fundraiser is for a good cause, some teachers involved in the competition are taking it as a fierce contest to prove their testosterone-fueled masculine supremacy.

“I’ve been practicing for this since puberty,” Amato said. “I’ve been able to grow a mustache since sixth grade. I just hope I can grow as full and thick of a beard as my Aunt Sophia.”

That’s Woodland for you.

To donate to Woodland’s Beards for Bucks fundraiser, contact Paul Geary at pgeary@region16ct.org or James Amato at jamato@region16ct.org.