For 15 years, barber Roger Foggle, who played football at Eastern Hills High School almost 30 years ago, taught kids how to play the game, never thinking one day he’d end up being more of a literacy coach.
But every day Millennium Cuts in Everman is open, kids of all ages pour through the door and head for a messy three-shelf bookcase filled with classics (“The Velveteen Rabbit,” “Chicka Chicka Boom Boom” and the Junie B. Jones books), copies of Boys’ Life and more current titles (“Happy Hair,” by Carolivia Herron, and “Dancing in the Wings,” by Debbie Allen).
Millennium Cuts is a charter member of the Fort Worth school district’s Books and Barbers Reading Program. The program launched this past summer with seven barbershops, and is now up to nine.
The participating barbershops were given stacks of books, many of them with multicultural themes; bookshelves already assembled; and incentive charts so that the young readers could track their progress with stickers and stars.
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Foggle, who has two kids of his own, sits the kids down in his barber chair, fastens the cutting cape around their necks and hands them a book, if they haven’t already chosen one. Often they have.
“Yep, reading is fun for you,” Cooper Johnson says, turning the pages of a book as barber Tyrone Malone shaves his head. “If you’re bored, just get a book and read it, and that’ll make you happy.”
Foggle and the others let kids read aloud as they trim their hair into buzz cuts and fades. They ask them questions about the story line or perhaps one of the characters. Leave it to a barber to be observant of the smallest details.
B is for barber
With the littlest customers, Foggle and the other barbers sound out the letters of the alphabet.
“I learned my ABCs at my grandmother’s house,” Foggle says. “At two years old, we were saying our ABCs. Now, the grandparents work just as much as the parents.”
Most of the older boys can read pretty well, he says, but they lack the confidence to read aloud. If there’s time, he’ll sit his imposing frame down in one of the dryer chairs and let them practice.
“There’s so much peer pressure,” he says. “I see so many kids that are afraid to let people know that they’re intelligent.”
That usually doesn’t happen at the barbershop, where the men and boys are comfortable, where there’s a sense of community rather than competition, Foggle says.
“They come to the barbershop, and we not only cut your hair, but we’re here to help you, too,” he says. “They can get help with words, and with other things.”
Sherry Breed, chief of equity and excellence for the Fort Worth school district, recognizes the role of barbershops in the African-American community. When she heard a presentation on the Books and Barbers Reading Program at a conference on educating young men of color, she says she knew it would be a good fit for the district, and especially for its 100x25 Initiative, which the district announced in fall 2016.
The initiative’s goal is to have 100 percent of Fort Worth third-graders reading at grade level or above by the year 2025. In 2016, only 3 in 10 third graders in the Fort Worth school district were reading at grade level, according to the district.
Only 1 in 4 African-American students in the Fort Worth school district met grade level in reading on the 2016-2017 school year STAAR test, according to Texas Education Agency data. African-American students make up 23 percent of the students in the Fort Worth school district, the TEA report said.
This compares to 35 percent for Hispanic students and 64 percent for white students in the Fort Worth school district who met grade level in reading on the 2016-2017 STAAR test, according to the TEA data.
Chairman of the board (book)
The Fort Worth school district is banking on programs such as Reading With Barbers to improve the reading numbers for its African-American students.
“They don’t have to be reading teachers,” Breed says of Foggle and the barbers volunteering with the program. “Sometimes it’s enough just to ask the child a question, like ‘What did you think about that?’
“We know the barbershops are places that our young men are going to go fairly regularly, places that mothers take their young children, boys and girls,” she says. “And they have an established relationship with their barbers.”
Breed says she will be meeting soon with the barbers to see how they’re doing. She has already ordered additional books, and some individuals have donated additional funds to the program.
“We can’t go district-wide. We don’t have the funding,” she says. “But we are still looking for new partners. We are still hoping to expand.”
Foggle, the former coach, says the program has made him grateful for the small wins: The child who finishes a book and proudly fixes another star next to his name on the reading chart, the woman who told him her son has started reading to her in the car on the way home at the end of her workday.
Foggle, who admits to a troubled youth, says he can empathize with the challenges young African-American boys face. Helping them along the path to literacy, he says, has helped him answer his pastor’s call to do something outside the church for the community.
“I love reading with the kids. I love the looks on their faces,” Foggle says. “I may not be doing something big, but I’m doing something.”
Reading With Barbers
Want to learn more about the Fort Worth school district’s Reading With Barbers program? Contact Sherry Breed’s office at 817-814-2331 or email Breed at firstname.lastname@example.org.