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A girl with no hair smiling and hugging two cute dogs
CHRIS CONE/NOVUS SELECT; KIM COOK/AP IMAGES FOR SCHOLASTIC INC. (ARIAH DEMING)
My Life Without Hair

An illness took away Ariah’s hair—and her confidence. Here’s how she found it again.

By Allison Friedman
From the May / June 2019 Issue

Learning Objective: Students will compare and contrast the experiences of two girls: one who has alopecia, and the other who donated her hair for kids with hair loss.

Lexile: 600L-700L, 800L-900L
Guided Reading Level: T
DRA Level: 50

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Compare and Contrast

As you read, think about how the gift of hair affects both the givers and the receivers. 

My Life Without Hair

An illness took away Ariah’s hair—and her confidence. Here’s how she found it again.

In many ways, Ariah Deming is just like any other fourth-grader. She’s obsessed with the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. She shows off a mouthful of braces when she smiles (which is often). She loves playing with her dogs and taking care of her baby sister.

But there is one thing that makes Ariah [uh- RYE-uh] stand out: She doesn’t have any hair.

Ariah has alopecia areata, a disease that prevents her hair from growing properly. Living with alopecia [al-oh-PEE-shuh] has not been easy. But over time, the 11-year-old from Denver, Colorado, has come to embrace her difference—and even see it as a kind of superpower.

“It makes me feel special, because I’m out of the ordinary,” Ariah explains.

In many ways, Ariah Deming is like other fourth-graders. She loves the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. She shows a mouthful of braces when she smiles (which is often). She likes to play with her dogs. She takes care of her baby sister.

But there is one thing that makes Ariah [uh-RYE-uh] stand out: She doesn’t have any hair.

Ariah has alopecia areata. This disease prevents her hair from growing properly. Living with alopecia [al-oh-PEE-shuh] has not been easy. But the 11-year-old from Colorado has learned to like her difference. Today, she sees it as a kind of superpower.

“It makes me feel special, because I’m out of the ordinary,” she says.

Whispers and Stares

About 6.8 million Americans have alopecia, which shuts down a person’s hair follicles—the tiny holes in the skin from which hair grows. Scientists aren’t entirely sure what causes the condition, but they know it’s partly genetic. Although alopecia can be treated in different ways and sometimes goes away on its own, there is currently no cure.

People with alopecia don’t feel sick at all. But the emotional effects of the disease can be devastating. Ariah has had alopecia ever since she was a baby. “She has been stared at her whole life,” her mom, Tiffini, says. “And people aren’t always kind.” At school, other kids would whisper behind Ariah’s back and make cruel comments. She tried to ignore the bullying. But she admits, “It’s been hard.”

About three years ago, Ariah and her family learned about a Florida-based charity called Locks of Love. The organization provides high-tech wigs called hair prostheses to kids who have lost their hair because of an illness or injury. The prostheses are made with real hair donated by people across the country.

About 6.8 million Americans have alopecia. Scientists aren’t sure what causes the condition, but they know it’s partly genetic. Alopecia can be treated in different ways, and it sometimes goes away on its own. But there is no cure.

People with alopecia don’t feel sick. But they can suffer emotionally. Ariah has had alopecia since she was a baby. “She has been stared at her whole life,” her mom says. “And people aren’t always kind.” At school, other kids would whisper behind Ariah’s back and make cruel comments. She tried to ignore the bullying. But it was hard.

About three years ago, Ariah and her family learned about a charity called Locks of Love. The group makes high-tech wigs called hair prostheses for kids who have lost their hair because of an illness or injury. The prostheses are made with real hair donated by people across the country.

To School Without Hair

Locks of Love president Madonna Coffman knows how challenging hair loss can be for kids like Ariah and their families: Both she and her daughter have had alopecia. “Kids don’t like to go to school with the wrong jeans or the wrong backpack,” Coffman says. “You can imagine how difficult it is to go to school without hair.” She helped start Locks of Love to bring high-quality hairpieces—which can cost as much as $6,000—to kids whose families can’t afford them.

Unlike regular wigs, Locks of Love prostheses are specially designed and fitted to each child. When Ariah and her family got in touch with the charity, it sent her a special kit to make a mold of her head. The mold would be used to create a snug, skin-colored cap. Nearly 150,000 strands of real hair (about 10 ponytails’ worth) would then be attached to the cap by hand. The painstaking process would take about five months.

To Ariah, the wait was almost unbearable. “I just wanted it so badly!” she says.

Madonna Coffman is the president of Locks of Love. She knows how hard hair loss can be: Both she and her daughter have had alopecia. “Kids don’t like to go to school with the wrong jeans or the wrong backpack,” Coffman says. “You can imagine how difficult it is to go to school without hair.” She helped start Locks of Love to bring high-quality hairpieces (which can cost as much as $6,000) to kids whose families can’t afford them.

Locks of Love prostheses are different from regular wigs: They’re specially designed and fitted to each child. The charity sent Ariah a kit to make a mold of her head. The mold was used to create a snug, skin-colored cap. Nearly 150,000 strands of real hair (about 10 ponytails’ worth) were then attached to the cap by hand. The process took about five months.

Ariah found it hard to wait. “I just wanted it so badly!” she says.

KIM COOK/AP IMAGES FOR SCHOLASTIC INC.

Ariah, wearing her hairpiece, practices the viola.

Joy and Relief

When Ariah’s hairpiece finally arrived in the mail, she eagerly tried it on. The silky, strawberry-blond hair came down to her shoulders, just like she had requested. Ariah was overcome with joy—and relief. “I didn’t even have words,” she says. “I was so excited. I knew I’d be much more comfortable at school.”

Because Locks of Love hairpieces are carefully fitted, kids don’t have to worry that they will fall off during school or activities. “They allow kids to be involved in sports or sleepovers, even riding roller coasters,” Coffman explains. Eventually, she says, “a lot of kids develop so much confidence and self-esteem that they don’t even need to wear the hairpiece anymore.”

When Ariah’s hairpiece came in the mail, she tried it on. The silky, strawberry-blond hair came down to her shoulders, just like she had requested. Ariah was filled with joy—and relief. “I didn’t even have words,” she says. “I was so excited. I knew I’d be much more comfortable at school.”

Because Locks of Love hairpieces are carefully fitted, kids don’t have to worry that they’ll fall off. Wearing them, kids can play sports. They can have sleepovers. They can ride roller coasters. Over time, many kids develop more confidence and self-esteem. Some feel so good about themselves that they stop wearing their hairpiece. They feel fine just the way they are.

“Good to Be Different”

That’s exactly what happened to Ariah. Since getting her prosthesis, she’s started going to a new school. She has made a group of close friends. “I just feel more confident,” Ariah says. And so she has stopped wearing the hairpiece to school every day. Having the option to look like other kids has helped her realize that she likes being different.

People still stare at her on the street. But Ariah says that people who are curious about her bare head should just come up and ask her about it. “Ariah is so friendly and patient,” her mom says. “She always takes time to educate anyone who’s willing to listen.”

Today, Ariah saves her hairpiece for special occasions or days when she just feels like blending in. But most of the time, she is happy to stand out. “It’s good to be different from everyone else in the crowd,” she says.

That’s what happened to Ariah. Since getting her prosthesis, she’s started going to a new school. She has made close friends. “I just feel more confident,” she says. And so she has stopped wearing the hairpiece to school every day. Having the option to look like other kids has helped her realize that she likes being different.

People still stare at her on the street. But she says that people who are curious about her bare head can just ask. “Ariah is so friendly and patient,” her mom says. “She always takes time to educate anyone who’s willing to listen.”

Today, Ariah saves her hairpiece for special occasions or days when she just feels like blending in. Most of the time, she is happy to stand out. “It’s good to be different from everyone else in the crowd,” she says.

Haircuts for Hope 

Every year, hundreds of kids donate their hair to Locks of Love. Meet some hair champions.

COURTESY OF VELAZQUEZ FAMILY

Priscilla Ramirez

Priscilla Ramirez sat in a chair at the hair salon, her long, dark braid running down her back. She fidgeted nervously underneath a polka-dotted smock. As the hairstylist raised her scissors, Priscilla squeezed the arms of the chair.

Snip. Snip. Snip.

Just like that, Priscilla’s 10-inch-long braid fell into the stylist’s hands.

Priscilla wasn’t just getting a new haircut. She was helping another person. Priscilla was planning to donate her braid to Locks of Love, a charity that makes hairpieces for children with hair loss.

“I hadn’t cut my hair before, so it was scary and nerve-racking!” says the 9-year-old from Santa Ana, California. “But I felt like I was doing the right thing for other kids.”

Priscilla Ramirez sat in a chair at the hair salon. Her long, dark braid hung down her back. She fidgeted nervously. As the hairstylist raised her scissors, Priscilla squeezed the arms of the chair.

Snip. Snip. Snip.

Priscilla’s 10-inch-long braid fell into the stylist’s hands.

Priscilla wasn’t just getting a haircut. She was helping another person. She planned to donate her hair to Locks of Love, a group that makes hairpieces for kids with hair loss.

“I hadn’t cut my hair before, so it was scary and nerve-racking!” says the 9-year-old. “But I felt like I was doing the right thing for other kids.”

Tears of Joy

Priscilla was inspired to donate to Locks of Love by her mom, Heidi, who donated her own hair 20 years ago. Heidi had explained that illnesses like cancer can cause hair loss. “I felt really sad that that would happen,” Priscilla said. “I wanted to help.”

But the decision wasn’t easy. Priscilla loved her long, glossy black hair, which fell all the way down to her waist. “Our Mexican heritage is about having long hair,” her mom explains.

So that day at the hair salon, Priscilla was both excited and nervous. When the stylist placed the shorn-off braid into her hands, Priscilla held it up proudly in front of her mom’s phone camera. Tears began running down her cheeks, even as she smiled brightly. “I felt sad, but also really happy that I did something good for other kids,” she says. “They were tears of joy.”

Priscilla’s mom donated her own hair 20 years ago. That’s where Priscilla got the idea. Her mom explained that illnesses like cancer can cause hair loss. “I felt really sad that that would happen,” Priscilla said. “I wanted to help.”

But it wasn’t an easy choice. Priscilla loved her hair. It fell all the way to her waist. “Our Mexican heritage is about having long hair,” her mom says.

So that day at the salon, Priscilla was both excited and nervous. When the stylist placed the cut-off braid in her hands, Priscilla held it up proudly in front of her mom’s camera. Tears ran down her face, but she smiled. “I felt sad, but also really happy that I did something good for other kids,” she says. “They were tears of joy.”

Kids Helping Kids

Every week, Locks of Love receives thousands of ponytail donations from people across the country. Dozens of celebrities, such as Olympic snowboarder Shaun White, have donated. Talk show hosts have had their hair chopped off on live TV. Hair salons, malls, schools, and even prisons hold yearly “Cut-a-Thons.” The charity receives enough hair to make about 400 hairpieces each year.

Locks of Love says most of the donations come from kids like Priscilla, who want to help other kids. “I feel really happy and proud that I donated,” Priscilla says. In fact, she’s growing her hair out so she can do it all over again.

Every week, Locks of Love gets thousands of ponytail donations. Many celebrities, such as snowboarder Shaun White, have donated. Talk show hosts have had their hair chopped off on live TV. Hair salons, malls, schools, and even prisons hold yearly “Cut-a-Thons.” The charity receives enough hair to make about 400 hairpieces each year.

Most of the donations come from kids like Priscilla, who want to help other kids.

“I feel really happy and proud that I donated,” Priscilla says. In fact, she’s growing her hair out so she can do it again.

This article was originally published in the May/June 2019 issue.

This article was originally published in the May/June 2019 issue.

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Can't-Miss Teaching Extras

To learn more about alopecia, students can explore the National Alopecia Areata Foundation’s website. The “What You Need to Know About Alopecia Areata” page provides quick facts about the disease.    

For any students eager to get involved, Locks of Love provides information about how to donate as well as other opportunities to volunteer.

Wigs for Kids is another organization that make hairpieces for children who have lost their hair. Your students will love this video, which follows the wigmaking process from start to finish.    

More About the Story

Skills

Compare and contrast, vocabulary, supporting details, cause and effect, author’s craft, inference, text features, text evidence, narrative writing

Complexity Factors

Purpose

The main article introduces a fourth-grade girl with alopecia (a condition that prevents hair growth) and tells how the hairpiece she received from the charitable organization Locks of Love helped her gain confidence. The paring focuses on young people who have donated their hair to Locks of Love. The texts explore themes of kindness and self-confidence. 

Structure

Both texts include present-tense and past-tense passages. The first text provides information about Ariah Deming, a girl with alopecia; basic scientific details about the condition; and Locks of Love, including how their special hairpieces are constructed. The second text focuses on Priscilla Ramirez. It opens in the present, with Priscilla donating her hair to Locks of Love, then moves to the past to talk about her decision process. Additional information about Locks of Love is included.

Language

The language is mainly conversational. The first article includes some challenging domain-specific vocabulary (e.g. genetic, prostheses, self-esteem).

Knowledge Demands 

The book series “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” and Olympic snow boarder Shaun White are mentioned. The concept of Mexican heritage appears in the second text.  

Step-by-Step Lesson Plan

1. Preparing to Read

Preview Text Features and Vocabulary (30 minutes)

  • As a class, study the headline, subheads, photos, and captions of both articles. Explain that the girl in the first article has alopecia, a condition that causes people to lose their hair. Then invite students to predict how the articles are connected.
  • Invite a volunteer to read aloud the Up Close box on page 17.
  • Distribute the vocabulary activity to preview challenging words. Highlighted words: genetic, charity, prostheses, hairpieces, self-esteem, donate

2. Close Reading

Read and Unpack the Text (45 minutes)

Read the articles as a class or in small groups. Then have groups answer the close-reading and critical-thinking questions.

"My Life Without Hair”

Close-Reading Questions

  • Based on the first section of the article, how is Ariah Deming similar to other kids her age? How is she different? (compare and contrast) Like many other kids her age, Ariah likes the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, wears braces, and enjoys spending time with her sister and her dogs. But unlike most kids, Ariah has no hair because of a disease called alopecia areata.
  • According to “Whispers and Stares,” what is alopecia? What details in this section help you understand why it can be “devastating”? (supporting details) Alopecia is a genetic condition that shuts down the body’s hair follicles, preventing hair from growing properly. The disease can be “devastating” because people who have it—like Ariah—face whispers, stares, and bullying.
  • Reread “To School Without Hair.” What does the charity Locks of Love do? How are its hair prostheses different from regular wigs? (compare and contrast) Locks of Love provides hair prostheses to kids with hair loss whose families cannot afford them. Unlike regular wigs, the prostheses are specially crafted for each child’s head.
  • In “Joy and Relief,” how did Ariah react when she received her new hairpiece? How does having a hairpiece help kids like Ariah, according to Madonna Coffman? (cause and effect) Ariah felt happy and relieved because she knew the hairpiece would make her life easier at school. According to Coffman, having a wellfitting hairpiece helps kids feel more secure as they participate in school and activities. Many eventually become confident enough to stop wearing it.
  • Reread “ ‘Good to Be Different.’ ” How is Ariah’s life different in this section than in “Whispers and Stares”? (compare and contrast) In “Whispers and Stares,” Ariah was struggling with being different: People often stared at her, and she faced bullying at school. But in “‘Good to Be Different,’” Ariah has started attending a new school, made new friends, and gained the confidence to stop wearing her hairpiece every day. She has come to enjoy standing out from the crowd.

"Haircuts for Hope"

Close-Reading Questions

  • Reread the first section of the article. Why do you think the author starts off by describing the moment when Priscilla’s hair gets cut? (author’s craft) The author likely wants readers to put themselves in Priscilla’s shoes and imagine how nerve-racking that moment was. The opening emphasizes Priscilla’s bravery in donating her hair.
  • Reread “Kids Helping Kids.” What details in this section help you infer that Locks of Love is a popular and successful charity? (inference) Details include that the charity receives thousands of donated ponytails each week; that celebrities and talk show hosts have donated hair; and that many different groups hold yearly “Cut-a-Thons.”
  • Look at the three circular photos of other kids and the quotes underneath. What do these add to the article? (text features) The article explains that most Locks of Love donations come from kids who want to help other kids. The photos and quotes support this statement, showing kids from around the country who donated hair for kids who needed it.

Critical-Thinking Question

  • At the beginning of the first article, the author says that having alopecia has become “a kind of superpower” for Ariah. Explain what she means, using evidence from the text. (text evidence) Like having a superpower, having alopecia sets Ariah apart from other people, which makes her feel special. She enjoys being “out of the ordinary” and uses the attention to educate other people about her condition.
  • Compare Ariah’s experience of receiving a hairpiece with Priscilla’s experience of donating her hair. How were the two experiences similar and different? (compare and contrast) Both experiences were joyful. For Ariah, the joy came from feeling more comfortable in her own skin and, eventually, developing new confidence. For Priscilla, the joy came from helping other children.

3. Skill Building

Featured Skill: Compare and Contrast

Have students complete our compare and contrast Skill Builder, then respond to the writing prompt

Differentiate and Customize
For Struggling Readers

Divide students into pairs and have each partner read one of the texts, using the lower-Lexile version. As they read, they should underline details about each girl’s experience. Then they should orally share what they read with one another and work on the writing prompt as a team.

For Advanced Readers

Ask students to imagine that they are organizing a hair-donation event at your school. Have them prepare a one-page speech convincing other students to participate. The speech should include details about what donors gain from giving hair and what kids with hair loss gain from receiving it.

For ELL Students

Read the lower-Lexile version of the article as a group, pausing after each section to check comprehension. Then discuss the writing prompt together, inviting students to share what they think a Locks of Love hair donor and recipient might say to each other.

For Small Groups

Divide students into small groups to read our September 2018 article “The Boy Who Couldn’t Smile,” about a boy named Osawa who had cleft surgery thanks to the charity Smile Train. Then have them discuss how Osawa’s experiences were similar to Ariah’s.