Third-grade teacher Chris Funge stood on a wooden stage in the front of his classroom at Ellerth E. Larson Elementary School in Lodi on Tuesday morning, preparing to let his students shave and paint his head as a reward for meeting their reading goals for the academic quarter for the second time in 14 years.
“There was one other time they shaved my head, and that was two years ago,” Funge said. “This is the first time they took the extra step to paint my head, though.”
Over the past eight weeks, Funge’s students read 25 points’ worth of books, he said, with picture books worth half a point each and longer chapter books worth one point each, and score 85 percent or higher on each reading quiz.
“You’d have to read 50 picture books or 25 chapter books in one quarter,” Funge said. “Stand up if you’ve read at least 25 points’ worth of books.”
Every student stood up as Funge smiled with pride, applauding the students who helped their classmates reach the goal by reading with them during recess.
One of Lodi Unified School District’s goals is to have every student reading at grade level by the end of third grade, Funge said, and allowing his class to shave and paint his head was his own way of motivating them to reach that goal.
“I have this goal for you because I want you to become the best readers you can be,” Funge said. “Reading is going to help you with whatever it is you want to do for the rest of your lives.”
Funge then encouraged the class to keep improving their reading skills by competing against themselves instead of others, before students such as 9-year-old Kenneth Tre Simmons took a turn shaving off part of the teacher’s hair with a set of clippers.
Simmons enjoyed reading Jeff Kinney’s “Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” series — as he related to the protagonists’ love of video games — as well as Rick Riordan’s “Percy Jackson,” series.
“He has to run away from monsters and he has to fight them with his friends,” Simmons said of Percy Jackson, the protagonist for whom the series was named.
After all of the students — and some of their parents — had a turn with the clippers, Funge then ran an electric razor over his head to remove any remaining hair.
“See? And you thought I didn’t have any hair before,” Funge said.
Funge stood briefly to pour paint into cups, before returning to his seat to allow the students to paint a yellow smiley face with black eyes and a black mouth on his freshly-shaven head.
“I feel like I’m at the makeup counter at Macy’s,” Funge said as the students painted his face and goatee. “Is this my color.”
While Funge called one table of four up at a time, students such as 9-year-old Sadie Kolber waited eagerly for a chance to paint their teacher’s face and head.
“I really liked the Percy Jackson series, it’s about the gods and it’s really funny,” Kolber said. “I’m on the fifth book.”
While his students lined up for recess next to shelves full of books Funge collected over his 29-year career for the children to check out, the teacher smiled with pride at their accomplishments as the paint dried on his head and face.
“What’s amazing is to see children who were very reluctant readers before, now before they go home they’re asking to borrow more and more books,” Funge said. “I’ll have to bump up the level and challenge them to reach a higher goal next year. Then, I’ll have to come with something to top this.”