Prairie Lake principal shaves head as students' reward for reading challenge
Prairie Lake Elementary Principal Dr. Robert Strenth is rocking a shaved head, an exciting reward for his students after they aced an Accelerated Reader challenge.
| 11:09 a.m. May 1, 2019
West Orange Times & Observer
Few things are more incentivizing for elementary-school students than their principal promising to shave his head.
So, after 91% of Prairie Lake Elementary Principal Dr. Robert Strenth’s kindergarten, first- and second-graders successfully completed an Accelerated Reader test, it was time for his locks to go.
On Monday, April 22, Strenth sat in a chair as one of his fourth-grade teachers — also a beautician — shaved his head. The principal’s new haircut was broadcast live on TVs throughout the school, and the roaring of the students’ cheers and laughter could be heard throughout the hallways.
“I want to keep them motivated and wanting to be here. With the push of the standards that are on kids, we’ve got to find some ways for them to enjoy what they’re doing while they’re working and (ensure they) can see success in multiple areas.” - Dr. Robert Strenth
AR is a software program designed to help students manage and improve their reading skills. It also provides teachers with a way to track a student’s reading abilities and is meant to encourage reading. After reading a book of their choice, students take short quizzes to measure their comprehension.
“It’s kind of a way to help incentivize and get them interested in it,” Strenth said. “A lot of the reading they end up doing becomes more technical-based, because we’re teaching them to read for processes and identify stuff. AR, to me, is just a way to generate an interest in reading. … That’s why I continue to support and push it as much as I can — especially for our younger kids. I don’t want reading to be a drudgery. Even though they’re taking a test, at least it’s a fun thing and rewards system for them.”
Strenth said school staff hosts monthly AR celebrations for students who reach their reading goals through AR. These include ice-cream parties at lunchtime, and recognition of classes and individual students for being top readers.
But this time, Strenth said he wanted to mix things up. In the wake of the school-wide focus on FSA and SSA testing for grades three through five, he wanted to do something fun for kindergarten through second grade.
“I’ve done all kinds of incentives, and they tend to respond well if it’s something I’m gonna do,” he said. “I’ve done things like have my face smeared with peanut butter and a dog lick it off, and they filmed it. I’ve kissed a pig, and once they had me dress up as Elsa and sing ‘Let It Go.’ … I’ve done high-heel races, which I won because (the heels) sunk into the ground and I was able to win that. There’s been all kinds of stuff.
“They taped me to a wall one time, so there’s been all kinds of ‘abuse,’” he said. “The worst one was probably having to wear all the Florida State stuff. I went to UF, and my media specialist and my wife are rabid FSU alumni, so that was a difficult one to wear FSU stuff all day.”
This time, Strenth decided to challenge his kindergartners, first- and second-graders to each take one AR test in the span of a week. If they did, he would reward them by shaving his head. He needed a haircut anyway, he said.
“You could hear the roaring going on, people told me, throughout the school as the kids watched it,” he said. “Even four days later, when I walk the halls kids want to touch it and they say, ‘You got your head shaved!’”
In the end, his students’ effort and excitement was well worth the new do.
“It’s just something to make it fun, because I want kids to enjoy it and by the time you get after spring break, it’s a long haul,” Strenth said. “I want to keep them motivated and wanting to be here. With the push of the standards that are on kids, we’ve got to find some ways for them to enjoy what they’re doing while they’re working and (ensure they) can see success in multiple areas.”