Every day, children in South Florida are finding a passion for reading through an effort to put bookshelves in barbershops. According to The Children’s Trust, studies show that students who master reading are more successful throughout their academic and professional careers.
But, in Miami-Dade County, nearly half of all third-graders fail to read at basic grade level. A program is focused on changing these bleak numbers by exposing children to reading in a place they are likely to visit: the barbershop.
Small wooden shelves are brimming with children’s books like “The Moon Speaks, Itsy Bitsy Spider and Joy to the Worlds.” It’s an idea that’s a cut above the rest sparked by local author and Florida Memorial University professor Jefferson Noel.
“This is giving kids the opportunity to read books while waiting for a cut, then take the book home with them to build their own personal library,” he said.
Noel started Barbershop Speaks five years ago. It’s a group dedicated to encouraging enlightening conversation in the community and in the barbershop. Since then, the program has expanded to include bookshelves.
“The reaction from the kids and the parents… it’s amazing,” said Dewis Avila, a barber at Cibao Barbershop in North Miami. “Me growing up, I always wanted a bookshelf at the house. We never had a bookshelf at the house. Now that we have it at the barbershop, it’s amazing.”
The project is in partnership with The Children’s Trust “Books for Free” program and the Kiwanis Club. They provide the books that are meant to expose young children to read in a place they are likely to visit.
“In Miami-Dade, right now nearly half of all third-graders are not able to read at a 3rd-grade level – which programs like this is so important,” said Michelle Lopez, media manager for The Children’s Trust.
There are now seven barbershops across Miami-Dade County with these special bookshelves, turning these shops into places of empowerment.
“They say, in the beginning, you are learning to read and then-once you do that and master that you can read to learn. We want to make sure that children have that early foundation,” said Diana Ragbeer Murray from the Kiwanis Club.