Middle school students put principal on roof

Gorilla mask, bunny suit also involved


ALLENTOWN – Last year, Principal Mark Guterl had his hair dyed purple and then chopped off in front of his students. This year, he will sleep overnight on the school roof.

Guterl, the Upper Freehold Regional Middle School principal, gave his eighth graders more incentives to raise as much money as they could during the annual Habitat for Humanity Walk-A-Thon, held this year on May 7 in Byron Johnson Park.As a result of him agreeing to take on some new, zany challenges, the graduating class raised about $7,500 for the nonprofit that helps builds homes for area families in need.

Prior to the walk-a-thon, Guterl told students that he would wear a gorilla suit for an hour during a school day if they raised $3,000. He also said he would sleep on the school roof if they raised $7,000 and would participate in a student-developed version of “Fear Factor” if they raised $10,000.

“I’m thankful it didn’t get to that,” Guterl said of the final incentive. “But, I would have done it because it’s for the right cause.”

In 2007, Guterl lost his hair over the challenge, but this year he would wind up fuzzier as a result. The principal couldn’t find a full gorilla suit to wear on June 2, the day students presented their donation to Habitat for Humanity. He donned a mask and some gorilla-hand gloves, but told students hewould complywith a full ape suit if they weren’t satisfied. Little did Guterl know that one of his students would jump to his rescue, offering a bunny suit for him to wear instead.

A good sport, Guterl agreed to wear the bunny suit. After all, the mission won’t be quite the nightmare that Ralphie Parker went through in “A Christmas Story.” The suit Guterl will wear for an hour is white, not pink.

“The kids are excited about me wearing the bunny suit,” Guterl said, adding that he planned to do so on June 4.

He continued, “I do these things because all of the money raised goes to Habitat for Humanity, a reputable organization, and to give a little extra incentive for the kids to get their laps and fundraising done.”

Guterl said he is proud of this year’s eighth-grade class because it raised $7,500 in three-and-a-half weeks, less time than it took last year’s graduating class to raise $8,400 for the same cause.

“They had less time this year,” he said. “It takes a great group of eight graders to raise that much money in so little time.”

During the check presentation, a representative from Habitat for Humanity told students their donation would purchase all of the windows for a home being built, according to Guterl.

The eighth-graders’ success in helping build a new home will ironically result in Guterl losing his for a night. He will live up to the challenge of sleeping on the school roof June 16-17. The principal will pitch a tent above the main office and camp out there for the entire evening.

“I have camped throughout my life,” he said. “If I can be safe in thewoods ofNewHampshire, I can be safe on a roof in Allentown. Although it will be hard. The kids said no padding at all.”

Regarding student concerns about him following through with the campout, Guterl said he would look into doing a broadcast via the Internet “so the kids can know that I’m really up there.”

Besides Guterl, numerous parents and teachers helped make this year’swalk-a-thon a success,with eighth-grade teacher Patricia Cocorles coordinating the event in support of the Trenton area Habitat for Humanity, a nonprofit organization that provides the capital and skills necessary to renovate or build affordable homes for those without housing.

Prior to the event, students actively sought sponsors to either provide a flat-rate contribution or to contribute a per-lap donation to Habitat for Humanity. During the walk-a-thon, they wore sponsor cards that homeroom teachers and parent volunteers punched each time they completed 0.7miles.

Guterl kicked off the walk-a-thon encouraging students to remember, especially when they felt tired, that each step would help provide a place for people to live.

“Think about thosewho have no place to live tonight,” he said, encouraging students to persevere and to complete as many laps as possible.

Some students completed asmany as 15 laps around the park, he said.

Eighth-graders Lehannah Taylor, Raphaela Cacamese, and Kelsey Lamb earned recognition for collecting the most money during the fundraiser while Tyler DeLorenzo earned honors for completing the most laps.