St. Peter’s Catholic School Principal J.R. West will stop at nothing to get his students to read, but what he did this year was a bit extreme. The gregarious leader of one of the top academic schools in Waldorf dyed his hair pink and styled it in a Mohawk to make good on his promise to student for reading 4,000 books during the school year. On June 9 the entire school celebrated with hoots and howls at an assembly where West was the brunt of more than a few “pink jokes” because of his outlandish new look.

During a time when video games, television and iPods have replaced reading, West and the staff at St. Peter’s found a way to improve the reading habits of youth throughout the school during the past two years. Motivated by West’s unorthodox pink coiffure, that would have made a pro wrestler or punk rocker proud, each of the 200 kindergarten through eighth grade students at St. Peters averaged reading 20 books this school year or a little more than two per month, above their regular class workload.

A lot of sacrifices were made, like his hair.

West said he encourages students to read to make a point about the relationship between reading, learning and education. “Reading is the most important skill we can give our kids,” he said. “It’s a proven fact; the more you read, the smarter you are and these students have read a lot. Academic performance has really improved in our school and students now really enjoy reading. All of our kids are reading on grade level.”

He doesn’t know for sure, but West and the faculty at St. Peter’s believe they set a record for reading in Southern Maryland. “I don’t know of another school that has read as many books,” West said proudly. “Last year we read 2,000 books. I told the students I would do something outrageous like cut my hair into a Mohawk and dye my hair pink if they read 4,000. What they did was amazing.” 

Students earned five levels of prizes based upon the number of books they read.  West assigned a different point level according to the type of book and the number of pages.

Eleven students reached the Gold Level by earning 10,000 points. Receiving top honors for their reading prowess were Chinonso Uzowihe, Tahjze Strong, Miguel Lopez, Raion Set, Charlotte Marriott, Jade Dofat, Juan Villaflor, Raquel Rawlins, Joshua Doughty, Sophia Sherman and Jordan Davis.

Ann Cooley of Waldorf, whose daughter Ashley is a fourth-grader at the school, thinks what St. Peter’s has done is wonderful. “Ashley is reading on the eighth grade level. I love the school and staff. They are very focused on education.”


Bruce Branch

Special to the AFRO