Calculating costumes: How the math department comes up with their Halloween ideas



This Halloween, the math department donned homemade hats and orange T-shirts, each with a digit of pi on the front. The department works to come up with a clever and cohesive Halloween costume every year

Even among the piles of tests to be graded and hours of lessons to be planned, the math department has time to prepare a Halloween group costume. Once again, tradition won out against the outsized stresses facing teachers and students this year.

For years, the math department has turned Halloween into a spectacle, creating elaborate costumes out of classic themes.

Math teacher Marika Alibhai, the costume committee’s de facto chairperson, pioneered the idea.

“In 2007, I’d been here for two Halloweens and the costumes were kind of sporadic, so I proposed dressing up together, a department-wide costume, and they loved the idea,” Alibhai said.

The idea blossomed into a school-wide phenomenon, with interest from teachers across departments. Alibhai said her ultimate goal was to work towards having a schoolwide costume contest.

This year, the math team faced a new set of challenges while coming out of hybrid learning.

“I normally send out a school wide email on Oct. 1 throwing down the gauntlet, saying ‘Let’s see what you got.’ I didn’t even send out that email this year,” Alibhai said. “I was feeling so burned out that I was on the fence about doing it at all.”

Alibhai credits fellow math teachers Christine Shen and Julie Padgett with keeping the tradition alive. Padgett references this year’s difficulties as the driving force behind a more toned down costume. She said this year’s concept may have been seen as subdued compared to the past, but that has more to do with the complexity of previous designs. In early October, the department settled on an idea.

“The math teachers wanted a nod to mathematics in our costumes, so that’s where the idea of “pumpkin pie” came in, incorporating the digits of pi into the theme,” Alibhai said.

Though it didn’t necessarily appeal to all, Alibhai found beauty in the compromise.

“We’re definitely a cohesive department, so even people who are independently not too excited about a particular costume or Halloween in general are willing to play along,” Alibhai said.

The tradition has had many faces over the years, often incorporating the pop culture of the day.

“One of my personal favorites was Juno. It was Elliot Page in a teen pregnancy kind of movie, and in the movie, the track team just runs in the background throughout all the scenes. And so we were the track team,” Padgett said, in reference to the 2007 cult classic.

The math department ran through the halls of the high school in formation that year, all donning yellow headbands and maroon shorts.

“It wasn’t long after the movie came out, so everyone got the reference. It was a big hit,” Padgett said.

In 2008, the department dressed up as the track team from the movie “Juno.” That year, they ran around the halls together to show off their unique idea (CONTRIBUTED BY MARIKA ALIBHAI)

Algebra teacher Michael Proctor remembers his first Halloween at the high school, where he put a creative spin on the “Guess Who” theme.

“I’m the only Black male on the staff and I wanted to represent, so I got an afro wig and a big leather jacket. I based it all on some kind of 70s inspired Blaxploitation character,” Proctor said, referring to a classic era of Black cinema.

In 2019, the math department dressed up as different characters using a “Guess Who?” theme (CONTRIBUTED BY MARIKA ALIBHAI)

Proctor said the tradition has a deeper meaning than meets the eye, that it gives teachers an opportunity to connect with their students and, just as importantly, with each other, adding a little bit of holiday fun to their already strong community. He said that it proves beyond doubt that math is the best department.

“It shows that we’re more than just teachers, we’re real human beings who have fun together, and we hope that transfers to our students as well.” Proctor said.