The noise level was deafening in the cafeteria at Vanderlyn Elementary School during morning assembly on May 11.
“Cut it! Cut it!” repeatedly shouted 700 children’s voices in unison.
On the stage, their art teacher, Christina McDowell sat in a chair. Her long strawberry-blond hair was divided into four 2-foot ponytails. On either side of her stood two fourth-graders, each holding a pair of brand-new scissors poised to cut a ponytail.
Each time one of the students cut off a 20-inch swath of hair and held it triumphantly in the air, the chanting turned into cheering and then back to chanting again until all four ponytails had been cut.
Rowdiness aside, it was all for a good cause because McDowell is donating her ponytails to Wigs for Kids, one of the few such organizations that guarantees all hair will go to make wigs for children who have lost their hair due to cancer and other serious illnesses.
The two haircutters, Amanda Florence and Jay Epstein, were the winners of a two-week raffle, the proceeds of which are also going to Wigs for Kids.
Both children had bought multiple $1 tickets.
Amanda, who herself had once donated her hair to another charity, bought 10 tickets.
“I just wanted to help,” she said.
Her co-winner bought 25 tickets.
“I had money in my bag that day,” said Jay.
McDowell, who had donated her hair three times before, was amazed at the response. To sell as many tickets as possible, she had promoted the event through the school newsletter, website and daily morning announcements.
“Still, I thought maybe we’d make $60 or $70,” she said. “I had bought the smallest ream of tickets possible.”
As the days led up to the haircutting, excitement grew. By the time Principal Noel Maloof drew the winning tickets on Friday morning, the raffle had brought in $955. At $1 a piece, that adds up to 955 tickets sold in a school with only 711 students.
“Some teachers bought a ticket for every child in their class,” McDowell said.
Perhaps another reason for the high number sold is that as one of two art teachers at Vanderlyn, McDowell is clearly a favorite with the students. A 2010 graduate of Kennesaw State University, she clearly reciprocates their feelings.
“Vanderlyn is wonderful. It’s exactly where I’m supposed to be,” she said. “The kids have imagination and energy you can’t get from adults.”
By the time of the Friday assembly, attended by the entire school, excitement had reached such a peak that even after the children had cut her hair people donated enough money to reach a total of $1,000.
When asked what it was like to be on stage with everybody watching, the three involved each had their own reaction.
“It was amazing,” said Amanda.
“It was good,” said Jay.
“It was exciting and felt like a weight had been lifted,” said McDowell, who added that she was very much looking forward to her appointment at a real hair salon later that day.