Science teacher John Kopaczewski, unable to quiet his class, was growing more exasperated by the moment. Maybe it had something to do with the dress and woman's wig he was wearing.
"I need your attention," he said as he pulled the wig off his head and deposited it on a desk. "I know this is kind of a distraction, but let's get the lab done." Just next door, educator Brian Travis was facing the same challenge.
The seventh-grade science teachers at Buena Park Junior High School only had themselves to blame.
The pair challenged their students to sell 300 T-shirts to benefit the Nature Conservancy, a group dedicated to rain forest and coral reef preservation. For every 10 shirts sold, an acre of land in Serra do Divisor National Park in Brazil was adopted in the name of the school.
Kopaczewski and Travis agreed to shave their heads if the goal was reached. For added incentive, they promised to wear a dress to school if 500 T-shirts were sold. The students took the challenge and sold 592 T-shirts.
Last week, the school's seventh- and eighth-graders gathered in the auditorium to witness the teachers' heads being shaved by the top six T-shirt sellers.
On Tuesday, the pair drew stares. Travis came to work wearing a dress--and a hat--he borrowed from his mother.
Kopaczewski's dress came from a local thrift store. He took all the attention in stride, saying he had adjusted to being called "baldy" and "girlie man."
"It's cold, a little chilly out right now . . . but you know what? We saved over 60 acres of the rain forest, so it was well worth it," the 35-year-old teacher said.
It is his first year at the school but not the first time he has attempted this feat. At his previous school, the students never reached the goal.
The event raised awareness about the plights of the rain forest and the coral reefs.
"It's wrong to cut down trees because you have so many habitats living there," said David Sanchez, 13. "The birds, the squirrels, they hide from their predators in there. That's where we get our oxygen from."
The topic of rain forest conservation came about during a class discussion, and Travis, 31, assigned students to research the issue and write about it.
Students may not understand the politics behind the issue, but that's all right, he said.
"I don't think they really understand the kind of game you have to play, but they understand the need to protect the rain forest. They look at it like other people should look at it, as intrinsically important in its own right," Travis said.
David and other students say although they've enjoyed teasing the two teachers, they admire them for their passion.
"If they're willing to shave their heads and dress like a woman, they have to care. That's just having the spirit. I would've [too], but I got to look good for the ladies, you know," David said, smiling and patting his full head of hair.
Ana Cholo-Tipton may be reached at (714) 966-5890.