Teacher notices 3rd-grader's scalp, goes above the call of duty to help his struggle
As an elementary school teacher, Ehren Steiner has seen children struggle with all kinds of personal challenges. In 2013, he had a student struggling with a health issue: alopecia aerata, an autoimmune skin disease that results in hair loss. The disease had gotten to the point that baseball caps and bandannas were no longer enough to conceal the fact that Dino Shuffield's hair was falling out in large quantities, and the third-grader was struggling with the decision to simply shave his head bald.
Steiner decided to talk with Shuffield. "I just kind of brought it up, like, hey man, I'll shave mine, too, if that would make it easier," Steiner told WESH 2 News. "I told him to think about it for the rest of the school day." At the end of the day -- a Friday -- Shuffield told Steiner that he'd decided to shave it all off.
When the two returned to school on Monday, each had a bald head. "My jaw dropped," Shuffield said. "He actually did it!"
Alopecia areata occurs in people of all ages, reports the National Alopecia Areata Foundation, and in many cases the symptoms appear in childhood. The NAAF provides support to anyone with alopecia areata, with special materials available for children and their families.
Steiner and Shuffield teamed up as "bald bros" to talk with other kids in the school about Shuffield's medical condition. Questions were asked and answered with respect.
Perhaps even more important was the expanded conversation that was opened: how to respond to people who look differently than expected. Steiner told the Orlando Sentinel that he hoped the kids learned about kindness and acceptance. "This is how we treat people," he said.