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Haircuts bring students dose of reality

Feb. 12, 2014

Wauwatosa West High School students gave themselves to those battling cancer.

The Locks of Love event saw several students donate 10 inches of their hair so it can be made into wigs for those fighting cancer. The entire student body watched as their classmates got a new look in the auditorium Friday.

The message about why they were cutting their hair was driven home by a video created by student organizers Laura Carlson and Emily Katula. It featured those who have experienced cancer.

Teachers speak out

At the end of the video, West teachers Rob and Janet Kalpinski shared a personal story. Their 2-year-old daughter, Kaya, had a brain tumor removed in November. While she won't be going through chemotherapy and isn't old enough to need a wig, they said their family will never be the same.

"You really don't get it until it happens to you," Rob Kalpinski said. "You hear that phrase all the time but it's true. You get a different perspective once something like this happens."

His perspective now is that students might be going through much under the surface — he has learned some of his students are dealing with cancer struggles of their own. The experience gives him more patience to deal with his students as "kids first and students second."

"It heightens our awareness that every one of these kids has a story, and you have to treat them as a person first before you can teach them," he added. "We did that before this but even more so now."

The Kalpinskis now work with the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation and other nonprofits.

When word got out that their daughter was going through cancer, the outpouring of support from their colleagues, family members and administration was massive, he noted. While Kaya was going through physical therapy, her parents both missed more than a month of school and, he said, the administration did more than they needed to to help the family out.

Kaya's siblings also helped throughout the ordeal. Rob Kalpinski said that while they might fight among themselves, Kaya serves as a grounding rod, bringing them all together.

"She brings out the best in everybody in our family," he added.

Passed down

This is West's seventh year running Locks of Love, and the event isn't run by any student organization. Two student volunteers are in charge of setting up everything and shooting the video.

The two volunteers, Carlson and Katula, were given the reins by the last students and with Carlson graduating this year, 10th-grader Katula will enlist the help of her brother and his friends to carry the hair-cutting torch.

Katula's hair was a bit too short to donate this year, but she donated last year and plans on giving her hair when she's a senior. The feeling of giving, she said, is amazing.

"It's so great to be able to give back to people with cancer and help them fight through it," she said.

Aside from Locks of Love, Carlson has a lot on her plate. She's on the varsity dance, cross country, track and tennis team, and is a member of the National Honor Society, marching band, Key Club and many other groups.

She doesn't mind the work, though, and offers this piece of advice: "Spend your time doing community service and helping others. You don't know how much you can help them."

Locks of Love has grown in its years at West. What started as a few students getting their hair cut during lunch now is an all-school event, complete with a video in the auditorium.

The reality of it, though, Kalpinski said, is what is most important.

"It's a nice way to get the whole school locked in on a cause. Most of our school functions relate around sports or academic achievement. What this does is gets everybody in the same room involved in a reality."

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