Lorien Gilbert with her students

Teacher goes bald to benefit cancer patients


All year, Central Manor Elementary teacher Lorien Gilbert has been teaching her students about empathy. And on Thursday, Gilbert practiced what she’s been teaching by getting her head shaved.

The event was to acknowledge the efforts of Gilbert’s students, who raised more than $2,500 for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, which specializes in treating young cancer patients.

The fund drive began after Gilbert’s class read books featuring children with disabilities and differences and pupils discussed how people’s looks can shape how others perceive them. The conversations eventually led to perceptions about children and adults who have lost their hair to cancer treatments.

“We talked about what it might be like to lose your hair, and how it can be a scary thing,” Gilbert said. “We talked about how people would probably stare and think that you were really sick, and maybe treat you differently, even if you were feeling okay one day. We also talked about how scary it must be to have cancer and be worried about not surviving and hearing your parents worry about paying the doctor bills.”

Gilbert showed her class videos of children being treated at St. Jude and asked students if they wanted to participate in the St. Jude Mathathon, in which participants get financial pledges if they complete challenging math problems. If her class of 24 pupils raised $1,000, Gilbert told them, she would shave her head.

The sixth-graders more than doubled that lofty goal, raising a whopping $2,533.19 – more than $100 per pupil – in less than two weeks. To mark their accomplishment, the head shaving took place Thursday before the entire sixth-grade class, with Central Manor teacher Brian Griffith doing the honors with shears and razors.

A loud cheer broke out after the last patch of hair was removed and Gilbert stood up to reveal her new look.

“Shaving my head is exciting, but it’s really more about demonstrating empathy,” Gilbert said. “If I can stand up and teach math without hair, and students can learn from a teacher who has no hair, then maybe one day when they meet someone who is battling cancer, they will remember that there is still a person underneath the baldness.”

“The person battling cancer is still a person.  Their teacher is still their teacher – even if she looks a little different now.”

Gilbert said her students deserve all the credit for raising so much money for a worthy cause. “They just changed the world today,” she said.