A man of his word

Assistant principal makes bet with former dropout, and puts his ear on the line
Jones said he never perceived himself as “hip” enough to have a pierced ear. Bob Pennell / Mail TribuneBob Pennell

South Medford High School Assistant Principal Hal Jones never even entertained the idea of having his ear pierced until a bet intended to motivate a former dropout to do better in school changed his mind.

The tidily groomed Jones, known for his crisp dress shirts, bicyclist physique and smooth, radio-host voice, now sports a silver, spherical stud in his left earlobe. The piercing is a reward for former dropout freshman Rojelio Navarro, who took the administrator's challenge and earned a 4.0 grade-point average in the third quarter, after dropping out the first and second quarter.

"Hey, if I had said let's go get ice cream, that wouldn't have worked," Jones said.

What led up to the bet was a spontaneous exchange in a school hallway. Rojelio said he was walking down the hall after lunch with his older brother, freshman Myckell Gray, and friend, freshman Joe Espinosa, when Jones complimented Gray on his cobalt blue eyebrow ring — the same shade of blue as an official color at the high school of nearly 1,800 pupils in southwest Medford.

"We started asking (Jones) when he was going to get one," Rojelio recounted.

"When you get a 4.0," Jones challenged.

Rojelio agreed to the bet. He tried to persuade Jones to consent to a nose ring. Jones negotiated an earring instead.

"I've never wanted an earring, ever," Jones said. "I'm not that hip."

Nevertheless, Jones said he wanted to show Rojelio how important it was to him that the freshman do his best in school.

"I'm always running through my mind what I can say and do to connect with students and know I value them being here," Jones said. "When we had this unplanned conversation, and (Rojelio) said that, I felt (he was) saying, 'Put your words on the line.' "

In fact, Jones put his ear on the line, while Rojelio set out to earn A's in all his classes.

"We have to take time to understand students as people and risk entering their world," Jones said. "Sometimes it brings us to places we don't anticipate."

Earning good grades in classes wasn't difficult for Rojelio. The problem was he rarely attended class. During the beginning of the school year, he missed so many days that he began to fail his classes. Rather than earn all F's, he dropped out, he said. Teacher Hector Santiago noticed Rojelio was gone. That kicked in a campaign in which school staff called Rojelio and his mother to try to persuade the freshman to return to school.

"I just didn't want to go," Rojelio said.

He ultimately returned for the third quarter.

The bet with Jones gave him the motivation he needed to put in extra effort in academics.

"I would wake up in the morning and laugh because no one thought he would do it," Rojelio said.

He attended classes regularly and did his homework. When his grade in physical science teetered between an A and a B, he went to his teacher and asked for extra-credit work, which he received.

"He's learning as a student, you have to learn to take the extra step and advocate for yourself," Jones said.

By the time the third quarter ended April 8, Rojelio had pulled off a 4.0 GPA.

"I'm a man of my word, and I found Rojelio to be the same," Jones said. "I'm just so proud of Rojelio and his determination to continue to meet life's challenges."

On May 9, Jones, Rojelio and other school staff went to Phat Kat Tattoo in downtown Medford for Jones' ear piercing.

"The owner (Jeff Rahenkamp) was great," Jones said. "He said, 'I don't want to get too personal, but you seem like a conservative guy. I think this is a turning point for both of you.' "

Jones said he'll keep the stud in his ear as long as Rojelio continues attending classes and doing his best in his schoolwork.

"You know, this is a small price to pay," Jones said.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or e-mail pachen@mailtribune.com.

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