ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Most teachers will tell you they can't do it alone. For kids to do well in school, people outside the classroom have to chip in and help. Well, sometimes that includes the folks who cut kids' hair. Michigan Radio's Jennifer Guerra has this story about books in the barbershop.
JENNIFER GUERRA, BYLINE: Jozef Jason is 7-and-a-half years old. He hops up onto an antique swivel chair and asks his barber for...
JOZEF JASON: The kid's mohawk.
GUERRA: It's just a couple of days away from picture day at his school. And like pretty much any second-grader, he wants to look good. So he's here at the Fuller Cut in Ypsilanti to get the kid's mohawk.
JOZEF: It's high on the top and short on the bottom. And lines that go in a diagonal line where the top is going to be.
GUERRA: Jozef's haircut is going to rock thanks to his barber. And thanks to his barber, Jozef's reading skills will also get a little brush up.
RYAN GRIFFIN: We want to be more than just a place to where people can come get a haircut.
GUERRA: Ryan Griffin has been cutting mohawks, fades and tapers in this working class town just outside of Ann Arbor for 20 years. And now thanks to the Read to a Barber program, he can add reading coach to his resume.
GRIFFIN: We get complemented by teachers that will say it does so much for these kids, you know, throughout the school year.
GUERRA: Griffin was inspired to put books in the barbershop after he read about some barbers in Harlem who get kids to read in exchange for two bucks off their haircut. Here in Ypsilanti at the Fuller Cut, it's not just enough to read the book out loud. Kids get quizzed by their barber to make sure they actually understand what they read.
GRIFFIN: Any help that these kids can get with reading. And again, comprehension is a big thing. You know, maybe someday some kid will grow up, be a journalist or be a writer. And he'll say, you know what, when I was young, you know, my barber used to make me read.
JOZEF: (Reading) We're going on a lion hunt. We're going to catch a big one. We're not scared, been there before.
GUERRA: Jozef picked "We're Going On A Lion Hunt" from a stack of books piled on top of two light green tables in the waiting room. That's where his little brother, Joziah, is waiting for his turn to get his haircut.
Have you picked out a book yet?
JOZIAH JASON: No.
GUERRA: Do you want to?
GUERRA: Can I come with you while you choose?
KEITH JASON: Go ahead and pick out a book. Hey, bud, pick out a book that's going to challenge you, though. Don't pick out something too easy, OK?
JASON: All right.
GUERRA: That voice you hear, that's Jozeph and Joziah's dad, Keith Jason. Like his sons, most of the kids who go to the Fuller Cut are young black boys. And the book selection reflects that. Books about black baseball players and black kid detectives make up a lot of the titles.
JASON: I think this is a beautiful thing to see.
GUERRA: Jason says he used to take his kids to a different barber shop in the city, but when he heard about the Read to a Barber program, well, it was a no-brainer.
JASON: It's an amazing thing. So it's helping my pockets. It's helping their education. And it's helping prepare a better future for them, so I love it.
GUERRA: More than 100 kids have read to the Ypsilanti barbers over the past year, some more willingly than others. Nine-year-old Georgio Pitts isn't super enthused about reading a book out loud.
GEORGIO PITTS: ...And he just became the first black man to play Major League Baseball and...
GUERRA: But the part where he gets two bucks from the barber to put in his piggy bank? That part's pretty great. For NPR News, I'm Jennifer Guerra.
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