Four of the more popular books in the Reading With Barbers program:

Bippity Bop Barbershop by Natasha Anatasia Tarpley

Daddy Calls Me Man by Angela Johnson

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats

Full, Full, Full of Love by Trish Cooke

Reading With Barbers

Anyone interested in contributing funds or books to support the expansion into more neighborhoods can contact Charles Hodges at FWISD Division of Equity and Excellence, 5701 Shelton St., Fort Worth, 76112, by email at charles.hodges@fwisd.org, or calling 817-300-8766.

It's been a longstanding tradition that if you want to know what's going on around town, spend some time at your local barber shop.

That's good for adults, but what about kids? A new initiative from the Fort Worth Independent School District aims to use the neighborhood barber shop to increase reading in the district.

Launched in the summer of 2017, the Reading With Barbers program uses shops located in east and southeast Fort Worth. The program is designed to help students, ages 4-14 identify as readers in safe, out-of-school community spaces. The program aligns with Fort Worth ISD’s and Read Fort Worth's 100X25 FWTX initiative, which sets a goal of 100 percent of third-graders reading on grade level or above by the year 2025.

The program is now expanding into other parts of the city where barbers wish to participate, including recently added locations on the south and west sides.

Simply, the program is exactly what the name says. When a child comes to the barber, while waiting to get a haircut, he or she can choose from a variety of books to read, often even taking the books home. Then, they discuss what they have read with the barber.

"It's good to have the kids doing something else in the barber shop other than playing with their cell phones,” said Jajuan Johnson, owner of Kay's Barber Shop on Miller Avenue. "At first they didn't enjoy it so much, but now they really enjoy it, and they love talking with us about. They look forward to it, and so do we.

"Most kids just go get a book now when they come in. We don't even have to ask them if they want one."

FWISD officials say Reading with Barbers is a prime example of how community involvement can impact student learning. Results have shown that students who read at their local barber shop are in a comfortable, familiar environment that is a central part of their neighborhood.

Barbers have established relationships with their young customers and their guardians, allowing them to provide support to help reluctant readers build confidence by encouraging them to read aloud and to answer content and context questions. Parents can also read with their children while they wait for their haircut, and older readers can even select their own books to read.

The idea for Reading With Barbers came to life after Sherry Breed, chief of the FWISD Division of Equity and Excellence, and former school board trustee Christene Moss attended a conference in 2018 and heard of another barber reading program in a different part of the U.S. They thought why not have the FWISD sponsor a similar program in Fort Worth?

"Today ours is the only program we are aware of that is sponsored by a school district," said Charles Hodges, Director FWISD Eastside Alliance Community Partnership.

The collective impact strategy engages parents, grandparents, and caregivers as well as volunteers from the city’s business sector, higher education, non-profit organizations, and the faith-based community. The program was honored in the fall of 2019 with the State of Texas OneStar Foundation Partners in Education Award, recognizing it as one of the top volunteer programs in the state.

Barbers help students with difficult vocabulary words, ask questions about content and praise them for understanding why literacy is important to a healthy and productive life. While this isn't a program that monitors reading improvement day after day or week and week because the students only come in every month or so for a haircut, Hodges said barbers have reported anecdotally that their student clientele seem to develop more of a passion and interest in reading.

Anyone is invited to participate at a RWB shop. Mostly it's student clients of each shop who participate, and it's usually when they come in for their regular haircut. However, in some shops students just drop in during their free time and talk to the barbers.

"It all depends on where the shops are located and whether they have a lot of foot traffic or are more isolated (like the one that's at Hulen Mall)," Hodges said.

"The location of my barber shop is an urban community; a lot of kids don't have access to a library," said Marcus Brisby, owner of Exquisite Stylz Barber Shop on Berry Street. "It gives them something to do outside of the video games. I actually had a video game in here, but that's all they ever wanted to do. Now they have all those books to read."

And read they do – a lot, Brisby said. They get excited what new books come into the shop, he said.

"I have kids come in, they don't even get a haircut. They just want a book," he said. "I give books away. If I get that one kid in the chair and talk to him about that book, it's a great thing for both of us. It prepares them for the next one.

"I love this. It is my way of giving back to the kids, to the community. I sleep well."

Last year the FWISD coordinated a Read Across America day in March in conjunction with the barbers and the Fort Worth Library. Despite it being a rainy Saturday, Hodges said the turnout for youths and guest readers was great at each shop.

This year, in mid-April, the district is planning a "Drop Everything and Read" event. Just like the name says, the event will encourage everyone in the RWB shops to, well, drop whatever they are doing and read.

"We're still fleshing out the details on that. The barbers also participate in their own back-to-school events where they offer free haircuts before school starts," Hodges said.

"The beauty of the RWB program is that it encourages reading and builds up the importance of literacy every day in a community space that community members know and trust. Students who struggle with reading try to conceal their lack of reading ability by trying to seem too cool to read. Having barbers – who the students typically look up to – take the opposite position puts a damper on that negativity."

Hodges said plans are in the works to expand the RWB program to encourage and promote adult readers as well.

“We know anecdotally from the barbers that many of the adult customers also struggle with literacy, although they would never admit it," he said. "We plan to subtly address that with literature and QR codes for access to online video so adults don't have to out themselves by admitting they can't read."

Hodges added that the FWISD Adult Education department offers free reading classes to adults, and those classes and training opportunities will be promoted within the RWB program in barber shops.

"Literate adults have a greater chance of providing an economically stable home environment for themselves and their families," he said.

The community has also been reaching out asking how to contribute funds or books to support the expansion into more neighborhoods, Hodges said. People may do so by contacting him at FWISD Division of Equity and Excellence, 5701 Shelton St., Fort Worth, Tx. 76112, by email at charles.hodges@fwisd.org, or calling 817-300-8766.

Sidebar

Reading With Barbers

Participating shops

Chop Shop Barber Shop

Owners: Donna Moss, Clarence Davis, and Will Hall

6700 Brentwood Stair Rd.

817-528-7929

Exquisite Stylz Barber Shop

Owner: Marcus Brisby

5418 E. Berry St

214-552-1621

Kay’s Barber Shop

Owner: Jajuan Johnson

3720 Miller Ave.

817-521-3877

Jazzy Cuts Barber Shop

Owner: Tracy Turner

1915 Evans Ave.

817-988-3562

Reveuse Barbers

Owner: Joshaul Stephens

1250 Woodhaven Blvd.

682-248-2084

Millennium Cuts Barber Studio

Owner: Tyrone Malone

Contractor: Roger Foggle

8000 Wichita St.

817-966-6009

HD2 Beauty & Barber School

Owner: Felton Love

2715 Altamesa Blvd.

817-637-6531

J. Kinlow Barbers Lab - (Hulen Mall next to Macy’s on 1st Floor)

Contracor: TyRon Brown

4800 S Hulen St. Suite 1106

682-554-4120

Lake Como House of Fades Barbershop

Owner: Landter Goodrich

4615 Horne St.

682-333-8285

Rudy the Barber

Owner: Rudy Avitia

3015 Hemphill St.

817-336-7333

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