Riverdale High School fired up the hair clippers last week to offer buzzcuts and big chops to participants for its annual St. Baldrick’s fundraiser supporting childhood cancer research.
Caron Peck, a Riverdale English teacher and yearbook advisor who refers to herself as a “St. Baldrick’s Supporter” on social media, played a big part in organizing this year’s event.
Walls that usually showcase Riverdale’s red and gold school colors were covered in green tarps and plastic sheeting for the event. Green and gold star-shaped balloons floated in place, and glittering shamrocks served as a festive background for the school’s makeshift before-and-after selfie station.
The school started participating in the fundraiser eight years ago to support a Riverdale graduate’s 4-year-old daughter who was diagnosed with a stage-4 neuroblastoma, according to Peck. The student council at the time came across St. Baldrick’s and it has been an annual event on campus ever since.
St. Baldrick’s Foundation is a California-based nonprofit that raises money to fund childhood cancer research.
This year’s honored child is Declan Sullivan, 9, who was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia last April. Declan stood next to his father, Rutherford County Schools Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Jimmy Sullivan in a clip to be included in Riverdale’s fundraising recap video.
Peck acknowledged how open and “transparent” Jimmy has been in posting regular updates to social media about his son’s medical condition and treatment plans.
“It’s not just celebrating the highs,” said Peck, “It’s one of those things where he’s been very honest with the challenges that this has presented, not only for Declan, but for the family.”
As of last Friday, the school had raised $19,690 (of a $50,000 goal amount), according to the school’s donation tracker webpage. Peck said students have been collecting donations since August at school-sanctioned events and by selling St. Baldrick’s merchandise.
The school plans to announce its fundraising total on Friday, but donations can be made at any time.
This year, the high school had more than 60 participants – 38 students, 10 teachers, two Riverdale alumni and 16 community members (including some from Georgia and Connecticut).
Dina Stagg of Trenton, Ga. (near Chattanooga) chopped off nearly 24 inches of hair before committing to the full shave last Tuesday afternoon.
“I wanted women, children, and men also to feel comfortable with themselves and not feel like they are any less beautiful without their hair,” said Stagg.
Peck said the sign-up number was lower this year likely due to the pandemic and distance learning. The high school’s current freshman and sophomore classes have no experience with the annual event, and there are some students at the school who were rezoned to Riverdale and have not seen the event either.
Last year, students were sent home from school due to COVID a week before the shaving event was scheduled. Peck said in previous years, all of the action would take place in the gym with over 2,000 students, cheerleaders and the school’s pep-band.
The usual festivities had to be adjusted with safety in mind, but the “energy” had not died down throughout last week’s school day shaving sessions.
“It was so cool. At one point, I looked around, and I’m seeing bald heads down this way,” Peck said, gesturing toward one direction of the hall, “and bald heads down this way. They had all just started to congregate and cheer one another on.”
There have been several repeat participants.
Theater teachers Matthew Smith and his wife, Mary Ellen Smith, said they got involved with St. Baldrick’s after one of Matthew’s friends received a cancer diagnosis eight years ago.
“I shave my head for the people who don’t have a choice in it,” said Matthew. “It’s not even a question. I’m going to do this. We just show up, and we get it done.”
Mary Ellen just surpassed the three-year anniversary of her big chop in 2018.
“It’s hard to teach empathy and compassion and service for the greater good without the experience,” said Peck. “I think it’s a really amazing thing that our students get to not only see it and witness it, but they get to experience it first hand, and that’s something very unique to us.”
Some members of the Tennessee House of Representatives recently expressed their condolences about former Murfreesboro Post reporter Jason Reynolds, who died March 12.
At the beginning of the Tennessee House session on March 15, Rep. Mike Sparks, on behalf of the Rutherford County delegation, asked for a moment of silence from the legislators to honor Reynolds.
“He was an objective reporter (and knew) the importance of the First Amendment,” Sparks wrote in an email to the Post.
The next day, on a conference call with reporters from around the state, Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton said he was interviewed by Reynolds a few times in the past year when Sexton visited Rutherford County to discuss legislative issues.
“His service to journalism and our state was outstanding.” Sexton said.
A Celebration of Life event has been planned for Friday, March 26 at 7 p.m. at the Grove at Williamson Place in Murfreesboro. The public is invited to attend. Reynolds’ funeral was held last week in Cleveland, Tenn.
LaShan Dixon has been named the Rutherford County Public Health Department Director, the county announced.
Dixon, who officially assumes the role on Monday, March 22, has been serving in an interim director capacity since previous director Dana Garrett died in October 2020.
“We could not be more proud to make this announcement,” said Rutherford County Mayor Bill Ketron. “Many local leaders and legislators, including State Senator Shane Reeves and Representative Bryan Terry, went to bat for LaShan, acknowledging what a huge asset she has been and continues to be to our health department and our community.”
Dixon began her career with the county as a part-time outreach representative in October 2008. In October 2011, she was promoted to a fulltime position and moved into the Assistant Public Health Director position in July 2017.
“I am filled with happiness and sincere gratitude with the realization that I’m receiving the opportunity to serve in this rewarding position,” said Dixon. “I truly look forward to continue working alongside our phenomenal staff and outstanding community partners to care for the residents of Rutherford County.”
Dixon has a bachelor's degree in exercise science and master’s degree in health and human performance from MTSU. She was the 2020 recipient of MTSU’s Young Alumni Achievement Award.