By Ashleigh / Jan 20, 2023
The east side of Indianapolis’ Stonybrook Intermediate and Middle School does not allow children to wear hats to class, like many other schools across the nation.
As a result, Principal Smith was prepared with an answer when an eighth-grader was taken to see him to explain why he had refused to take off his hat in class. Principal Smith gained notoriety because the solution was so unanticipated.
There Was Something Bigger Going On
The worst a child could do wasn’t what they did. A student was in the principal’s office for violating the no-hat rule at the school.
It was, at best, a minor offense. However, the boy’s sullen, defiant response left him wondering whether there was more going on. There was just one way to learn the answer.
He Loved His Job
As groups of kids made their way to their next class, principal Jason Smith took up his normal position in front of his office. Thankfully, there was a happy, upbeat vibe that day.
Although Stonybrook Intermediate and Middle School in Warren Township, Indiana, appeared to be just another educational facility, Smith had fervent plans for improvement.
The Perfect Moment
His attitude toward the educational system may have appeared evident at first glance. But in actuality, he was up against centuries’ worth of antiquated customs and “traditional” views on discipline.
He was constantly searching for ways to make things better, whether it was how teachers or pupils were taught. A special chance would present itself that afternoon.
One student’s teacher had taken him to his office because he wouldn’t take off his hat. The boy’s scarlet cheeks and unhappy attitude didn’t seem to suit the typical response, but Smith had seen plenty such fashion rebellions.
He noticed that the youngster was reserved and appeared to be ashamed of something. Smith had a choice.
A Different Approach
Giving him detention and calling his parents would be the “traditional” response.
Smith, though, detested that route to the core. He had to instruct, direct, and assist students as a principal. The second option needed a little nudging. He questioned the youngster, “Why won’t you take off your hat? Smith made the decision to look a little further.
Taking It A Step Further
The young man lowered down in his chair and shrugged lightly, as if bracing himself for a lecture or worse.
Smith made another attempt. ” Did anything difficult occur today”? The boy looked up at the rim of his cap instead of shrugging. He said something to himself. Smith was not going to allow it to come to that.
Not What He Expected
Eventually, after some mild pressing and prodding, the young man grudgingly removed his cap.
Smith rubbed his brow in an effort to pinpoint the issue. The child claimed that he had just had a fresh haircut. But it was “horrendous,” and he felt ashamed of it. Smith could only identify one issue.
It Was Important
The cut itself wasn’t actually flawed in any way. However, he was all too aware of how significant appearance was in their society. Hairstyles played a role in a person’s identity.
And at that age, avoiding disagreement and appearing to be accepted by peers were the most crucial things. The solution was in Smith’s possession.
His Next Step
“For a young man, especially an African American young man, the barbershop is a big deal in the community. Looking good and ‘representing’ and presenting yourself is huge for kids.”
Principal Smith claims to understand the value of kids having self-confidence and taking pride in their appearance. Peer pressure and acceptance are important during this time. Principal Smith was therefore aware of his next step.
Making A Deal
Even if the “horrible” haircut looked fine, the boy just needed confidence. He needed to be able to hold up his head again.
“If I can fix it, will you go back to class?” The boy perked up, a glimmer of light sparkling in his eyes. He gave an enthusiastic nod. In this situation, Smith was lucky for two reasons.
Principal Smith had a solution. He pulled out his phone and proceeded to show the student photos of his son, whose hair he regularly cuts, and reassured the boy it wasn’t his first time trimming hair.
After a call to his parents for approval, Principal Smith quickly went to his house around the corner from the school to fetch his clippers. The result was unexpected.
Staff Snaps Photo
The trim didn’t take long, but in the end, the young man was happy and eager to go back to class and learn about diameters and circumferences.
However, Smith’s support staff had snapped a photo of him doing the haircut and posted the story on social media. The response was alarming.
Above And Beyond
Everyone was going on and on about how he had “gone above and beyond” for his student.
But to Smith, that didn’t make sense at all – and was one of the root issues within education, at least in his opinion. He believed he was only doing his job. What he did wasn’t an “extra kindness” that deserved praise.
Part Of The Job
It was what he, and other educators, should be doing as part of their job.
It’s too easy to get mad, call the parents, and hand the problem off to someone else. It’s too simple to toss someone into detention. It was far more effective to find the root cause and address that instead. The next day, he followed the young man to class.
Smith peeked through the window and saw the boy sitting tall and already putting his hand up.
It had worked. When local news outlets reached out about the “story”, he had a simple response. “He really was not trying to get out of class. He just thought that he would be laughed at, so we took the time and did what we could to help him,” Smith said.
If only other institutions saw little acts of kindness and truly wanting to help children as part of their job, maybe things would get better. This is what we should do as adults and set examples for children.
Granted, being a teacher nowadays is tough, but it’s still one of the most fulfilling jobs someone can ever have. But Principal Smith didn’t know what a big impact he was making.
An Example Of Leadership
The school’s resource officer, Lewis Speaks Snr, called Principal Smith an example of true leadership.
“The principal could have easily called the child’s parents and put him out of school for a day, but he took time out of his busy schedule to make sure the student was successful in completing his first day of school,” said Speaks. But this was not Principal Smith’s first memorable act of kindness.
Not His First Act Of Kindness
Speaks Snr called the incident a “touching moment” but actions like that are not unusual at the school. It seems it’s something that happens frequently.
A couple of weeks before the haircut incident, Speaks recalls a 5th-grade student that had walked into Principal Smith’s office complaining about his shoes. What the principal did next was not what you might expect.
The soles of the student’s shoes were falling apart. The student was embarrassed by this, making him not want to go to school.
Speaks says the principal gave the student a brand-new pair to wear. Out of the goodness of his heart, he managed to restore the student’s dignity. But this was not the only good samaritan in the area.
Another Good Samaritan
Speaks heaps praise on another good samaritan who helped out at Stonybrook Intermediate and Middle School. La Don Allen is a local barber who left his shop one day to help another student with a haircut at the school.
“These two didn’t do these wonderful gestures for any accolades. They did it because they understand the concept of leadership,” said Speaks. However, Principal Smith does not want to be put on a pedestal.
Doesn’t Like Publicity
Speaks emphasized the importance of Principal Smith’s acts of kindness and said he remembers “how frustrating” it can be going to school without a proper haircut. He added that small gestures such as a haircut and a pair of shoes could be “critical” for a young person’s self-esteem.
“It’s definitely not out of the norm for him to make such gestures, but he doesn’t like the publicity,” Speaks said of Smith.
A Problem Solver
Speaks says, “It could’ve been so easy for the principal to just turn the kid away, but he chose to sit down and listen.”
“We are eternally grateful to have such a thoughtful person leading us here at Stonybrook. In today’s day and age, we need good role models for our kids. I thought it was a very wonderful, selfless act.” Then, the student came back to the office.
The Student Apologizes
According to Speaks, the student apologized to the teacher and principal for his behavior. He said that he wasn’t trying to be difficult or wanting to get out of school.
He was just so embarrassed and didn’t see a way forward. Now, the student even frequently stops by Principal Smith’s office to talk about his day. Little did the principal know that he would be thrust into the spotlight.
The story about the principal helping out the student was posted on social media by Lewis Speaks Snr. It resonated with the people, and the story went viral.
But Principal Smith doesn’t believe that he went above and beyond his role in any way. He feels that this was part of his job, to help students and solve problems instead of making them feel worse. But he wasn’t ready for the feedback he received on social media.
One admirer tweeted his praise for Principal Smith, saying, “Finding solutions instead of creating more problems. Thank you, Principal Smith.”
“This is the best and most constructive way of handling problems. I know he won’t be able to handle every problem this way, but kudos to him,” a fellow teacher commented. Then, Principal Smith would explain exactly what he was trying to do.
The Root Of The Problem
Principal Smith says, “We are not disciplining with a hard fist. You could call and have the parents pick up the kid for defiance.”
“Or you can sit and get to the root of the problem and see what I can do to help you. What do you need right now? Talk to your students, be open and honest.” But Smith wasn’t going to leave it all just there.
The Best Learning Environment
Principal Smith, who is studying for his doctorate in education, said he is still searching for the best ways to create the best learning environment for his students.
He said that the viral haircut should be the best lesson for all educators on empathy for their students. “If you see a student out of sorts, sit them down, talk, and most importantly, listen.”
About Something More
For Smith, the offer to fix the student’s hair went far beyond keeping the boy in class. It has also made strides in changing the public’s perception of the area and the school.
When he came in for an interview two years ago, Smith said people would tell him the school and the area was rough. But Principal Smith did not see it that way.
Amazing Teachers and Children
“I wanted to work hard because we have amazing teachers and great children to change the perception of the culture,” Smith said.
“The kids are 100% safe here. This is just a great opportunity to shed light on the wonderful things we have here at Stonybrook. We are here to change students’ minds about teachers and show them that we are there for them.”
In order to protect the privacy of those depicted, some names, locations, and identifying characteristics have been changed and are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblances to actual events or places or persons, living or dead, are entirely coincidental.