INDIANAPOLIS — Like at many schools across the county, students at Stonybrook Intermediate and Middle School on the east side of Indianapolis can’t wear hats in the classroom.
So when an 8th grade student was sent to principal Jason Smith’s office last week for refusing to take off his hat, Smith asked the natural question: Why not?
“He just let me know his parents got him a haircut recently, but he didn’t like how it came out,” Smith said. “I’m assuming he just didn’t want kids to laugh at him.”
Instead of sending the student home, Smith pulled out his phone. He showed the boy photos of his son, whose hair he regularly cuts, and let the boy know he was no novice with a pair of clippers. Smith had been cutting hair for years and used to give his teammates haircuts before their high school and college basketball games.
He offered to fix the boy’s hairline. The boy and his parents agreed and Smith went home for his clippers.
“I came back and lined him up, and he went on to class,” Smith said. Cutting hair “ended up being a useful skill.”
Lewis Speaks Sr., the school’s resource officer, called last week’s incident “a touching moment” but said actions like that are not unusual in the school.
A couple weeks before the haircut incident, Speaks said a 5th grade student had walked into the principal’s office complaining about his shoes. The soles were ripping off, and Speaks said Smith gave the student a new pair to wear.
“He doesn’t really like the publicity,” Speaks said of Smith. “But it’s definitely not out of the normal for him to do such a gesture.”
Speaks emphasized the importance of Smith’s kind act and said he remembers “how frustrating it could be going to school without your hair cut.” He added that things as small as a haircut and a pair of shoes can be “critical” for a young person’s self esteem.
“It could have been easy for a principal to just be like ‘hey, we’re just going to send you home for the day because you’re not going to take off your hat,’” Speaks said. “But for him to sit down with the student, find the root of the problem and then come up with a solution. … I thought that was a very wonderful, selfless gesture.”
The student apologized for his behavior after the haircut, according to Speaks, and now frequently stops by the office to talk about his day.
For Smith, offering to cut the student’s hair went 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 was interviewing for his position two years ago, Smith said people would tell him the school was rough. But he doesn’t see it that way.
“I wanted to work hard — because we have amazing teachers here and amazing children — to change the perception of the culture,” Smith said. “Kids are 100% safe here. This is just a great opportunity to shed light on the wonderful things… we have here at Stonybrook.”
Reach Indianapolis Star reporter Lawrence Andrea on Twitter @lawrencegandrea.