‘It takes a village;’ Union County School partners with hair salons to promote literacy

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UNION, SC (FOX Carolina) — After noting low reading scores, staff at Foster Park Elementary in Union County came up with a unique approach to get kids reading. This initiative takes the books out of the classroom and into the hair salon.

It’s a different approach, but staff say they’re already seeing kids engaged.

“You really are a pillar when it comes to the community because the kids look up to me,” said Terrance ‘TJ’ Booker, owner of Tee-Jay’s Barber Shop.

Like many other barbershops, Tee-Jay’s is a place to sit down, chat, and of course, get your hair cut. But now, through the sounds of conversations and the hum of lawnmowers, it’s also a place for children to learn.

“So instead of just having them watch TV, we let them read books,” Booker said.

‘Read while you wait’ is what they call initiative. Across the state, improving literacy has been a challenge. The problem starts with children who lack the necessary skills before kindergarten and who perform poorly in high school. This program allows all ages to read by bringing the books to where they are.

“They look up to their barbers as role models. So I thought to myself, hey, if the hairdresser says to the kids ‘baby, why are you here, put the phone down for a minute and read this book’ – they will,” said Dr. Fran M. Adams, director of Foster Park Elementary School.

A reading coach from the school first pitched the idea to Dr. Adams and the initiative began in October.

“I think this is going to bring our community and our students together and that’s what we really need,” said Tiffany Clayton, Grade 2 teacher at Foster Park Elementary School.

Staff are already saying the program has been a success.

“When they first saw the shelf here that I got from Dr. Adams, they ran straight to it,” Booker said.

By reading at the shop, children in Foster Park can earn points for school rewards, and Booker also gives children incentives to read books.

“Anything we can do to help and make it fun and interesting always helps,” said Melissa Inman, literacy coach at Foster Park Elementary School.

The program will not stop at Tee-Jay.

“There are barber shops from Jonesville all the way to Union, east and west county,” Dr. Adams said.

They will expand the initiative — one pound and one cup at a time. Starting next week, Hardie’s Barber Shop and Salon in Union will join the initiative and soon you may also see shelves in other stores.

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