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Kids Get Reading Lessons With Their Haircuts In Some Fort Worth Barbershops

Stella M. Chavez
Cooper Evan Ross, who turns 6 years old this month, is learning how to read sight words. He says he likes picking out a different book every time he visits his barber, Tyrone Malone, at Millennium Cuts in Fort Worth.

Some kids in Fort Worth are getting a little bonus with their haircuts -- a chance to read with their barbers. It's part of a new effort by the city's schools to place books inside barbershops and encourage barbers to dive into them with their pint-sized patrons. 

Roger Foggle has simple instructions for his youngest customers at Millennium Cuts: Go to the bookshelf in the corner and grab a book before you sit in his chair.

“You can’t just come over here and lollygag,” Foggle said. “No, you gonna come over here. You gonna read over here. ... I love it.”

Foggle’s barbershop is one of nine in the Fort Worth school district’s Reading with Barbers initiative. The barbershops are near schools where students struggle with reading.

'We could push them'

“A lot of children, they’re not confident in reading,” Foggle said. “And we felt like by them coming to the barbershop every week, seeing us all the time, we could push them.”

Sherry Breed, the school district's chief of equity and excellence, got the idea to put books in barbershops while attending an education conference. Similar reading efforts are taking root in barbershops across the country.

Credit Stella M Chávez / KERA News
A kid's reading progress is tracked as part of the Reading with Barbers initiative. The student who reads the most will end up with a prize.

Breed said this initiative could help the district with its goal to have 100 percent of students reading at or above grade level by 2025. She said barbershops are a good spot to promote literacy.

“Usually there’s a lot of conversation taking place, and it’s [a] well-known safe place for the community,” she said. “They know the barbers there. So we thought, ‘Why not have these adults serve as mentors and talk about the importance of literacy and reading?' ”

Over the summer, the barbers met with Breed to learn how they can help their young clients improve their reading skills.

“When they get in the chair with the barber, then they would ask them questions,” Breed said, “such as, ‘Tell me a little bit about the book? What did you like about it? Who was your favorite character? Would you like to read more books by this particular author?'”

'We're just reading'

Back at Millennium Cuts, fifth-grader Terick Jackson sits on a chair and reads out loud. Terick often hangs out here after school, and he usually has a book in his hands. Today, it’s “The Case of the Missing Trophy.”

“Stra --- stra --- strange, momma? This word is strange, ain’t it?”

“Yes, strange,” Terick’s mom, Tonya Hardy, answered. She’s a barber here.

“Strange man in the cowboy hat,” Terick continued.

Hardy says she loves having books inside the shop because they keep her son entertained.

“He sits down a lot more now,” she said as she cut a customer’s hair. “He’ll sit here and read to Roger all the time.”

Roger Foggle is so enthusiastic about the effort that he posts videos of his reading sessions on his Facebook page. In one clip, a high school student sits in a chair as Foggle combs the kid’s hair and listens to him read.

“Slow down. Why you trying to read so fast?" Foggle asks the student. “We’re not in a race. We’re just reading.”

A coach -- for readers

The barber tells the kid to hold the book with both hands, that he wants him to understand what he’s reading.

Foggle is like a coach – a coach for readers.

“You know how you get out on the football field? You play running back right? Every time you get the ball, you confident you’re gonna take that thing to the house,” he says. “Nobody can beat me. That’s the same confidence I need you to have when you’re reading this book. All right?”

Foggle doesn’t just want kids to read with confidence. He wants them to be confident about reading.

“A lot of times, a lot of their peers feel like, ‘Well, if you’re educated, if you’re smart, uh, you’re a square.’ And they do a lot of name-calling,” Foggle said. “That’s when a lot of the bullying comes along and that’s why a lot of kids don’t want you to know that they’re very intelligent.”

At Millennium Cuts, posters with readers’ names hang on the wall. Every time kids read, stars are placed by their names. The one who collects the most stickers will get a prize.

So far, Cooper Evan Ross is in the lead. Cooper, who's 5, hasn’t quite mastered reading, but he’s learning sight words. Today he’s back in the shop for a haircut. He’s picked up a book called "Peter's Chair."

The book opens with the main character, a boy named Peter, stretching to reach for a toy placed on top of a tower of building blocks.

Cooper explains what happens next.

“And now his dog made it fall all over,” Cooper said. “Now we have to start all over again.”

When Cooper finishes this story, he’ll start over again, too. This time, on a new book.

Credit Stella M. Chávez / KERA News
So far, nine barbershops have partnered with the Fort Worth school district in the Reading with Barbers initiative. All of the shops received books and bookshelves.

Stella M. Chávez is KERA’s immigration/demographics reporter/blogger. Her journalism roots run deep: She spent a decade and a half in newspapers – including seven years at The Dallas Morning News, where she covered education and won the Livingston Award for National Reporting, which is given annually to the best journalists across the country under age 35.