Fifth-grade teacher Ryan Oleson could relate when he heard about a student at Brandywine Elementary who felt self-conscious about losing his hair from chemotherapy treatments—hair loss that would reveal a surgical scar on the back of his head.
So Oleson, an 11-year teaching veteran at the school in Niles, let the boy shave his full head of hair in the school hallway with classmates looking on.
“A friend of mine and I decided we would do this in solidarity with the little guy,” the MEA member said.
Afterward, Oleson and 11-year-old Colton Hubbard compared notes—Oleson also had a scar on his head from having a benign brain tumor removed when he was a child.
“We had a moment where I said, ‘I was six when I got mine; how old were you?’ And he said, ‘Five.’ It wasn’t too exciting. Just kind of like, ‘Huh.’”
Later, Oleson penned a moving note to Hubbard on a Facebook post commemorating the head shaving event: “Mr. Colton, you and I shared more than a haircut yesterday. We shared battle scars and a story of strength,” the message read in part.
Oleson grew up with Hubbard’s mother – who is now a nurse – in the Brandywine school district that is like a family, he said. Young Colton has been battling the growth of non-cancerous tumors for the past several years, but he is surrounded by love, the teacher added.
“He has a lot of love at home and a lot of love among his friends here and among all the staff here,” Oleson said.
While Hubbard is not a student in his homeroom, Oleson sees the boy every day for reading intervention and notices him joking with friends in the hallway. “He has one heck of a personality; What I see is him smiling. His friends seem to brighten his day.”
Several people at the school are now sporting shaved heads, including some of Hubbard’s classmates and Miguel Perez, the school’s at-risk specialist.
It’s all part of the culture at the school, where students learn about helping others through class projects such as fifth-grade teacher Cindy Boughton’s Christmas fundraiser to benefit a local homeless shelter. And the larger community rallies around families in tough times, Oleson said.
That was another message he wanted to send to Hubbard, which he conveyed in the Facebook message: “You have an AMAZING family that encompasses both your family at home and your Brandywine family. We are all behind you and will continue to support you in any way we can.”