Literacy is defined as “the ability to read and write” as well as “competence or knowledge in a specific area,” according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary. Literacy is important because through reading and writing vocabulary, understanding and learning are all improved. However, not everyone has access to materials to increase literacy.
Jim Ward, a substitute teacher for Haddonfield Public Schools, hopes to help increase literacy by starting an initiative in Haddonfield to promote reading with Books in Barbershops. The hope is that by putting books in barbershops, the love of reading in Haddonfield will increase with young boys and eventually possibly increase literacy to all children in South Jersey areas in need.
“We’re promoting the joy of reading — that reading is fun and a good idea, as it is the backbone to any discipline … The point is we want to do everything we can to encourage reading,” Ward said.
The idea for Books in Barbershops came from when Ward was reading a National Education Association Today Magazine with an article on Books in Barbershops, an initiative started in Jackson, Miss., to increase literacy with young boys in the area. The initiative was to encourage student reading in communities where children might not have access to books and have them at cornerstones of the community such as barbershops, where kids can find these reading sources, as well as literacy ambassadors and mentors — the barbers.
“When boys and men go to the barbershops, they wait. And men have (reading material) for them, but the first graders sit and are bored. Let’s turn that into reading. Reading is key to every discipline,” Ward said.
Ward thought this was a great idea, and thought Haddonfield would be a great place to test to see if it works in South Jersey. Ward spoke to the Haddonfield Public Schools librarians, elementary school principals and Assistant Superintendent Mike Wilson, who said they would support his idea.
“(I felt) excited. It’s a great project to promote literacy and community service … I would love for our students to see how one person can make a difference. This is an idea Jim had and now he’s bringing in other people into it, and it has the potential to really benefit a lot of people,” Tatem Elementary School Principal Karen Schultz said.
Ward is aware that Haddonfield might not have a literacy problem, as Jackson, Miss., did. But, the focus for Haddonfield will be less on mentoring and more on increasing young first- through fifth-grade reading.
“There might be a literacy rate that is more acceptable here, but none the less the encouragement of reading with youngsters is going to move the needle in the direction that we want,” Ward said.
Two barbershops in Haddonfield have already volunteered to participate. Those barbershops are Caravelli’s Barber Shop, owned by Anthony Fiore, and MirAno’s Barber Shop, owned by Joseph Graziano and George Miraglia, both on Kings Highway East. The hope is to have books in the barbershops before the end of May.
“I felt good about (this project) and excited to help any way I could … Hopefully, I’d like to see the success they had in Jackson, Miss., replicated in Camden and anywhere else it is needed,” Fiore said.
Ward has already begun collecting reading material for the barbershops. Those include consumables, which are lightweight reading, magazines and books, all intended for young readers from first to fifth grade. All of the reading material is available for kids to read and finish at the barbershop, take home to finish and bring back, or to take home and keep.
“We want to make this as easy as possible for the barbers … The only thing asked of the barbers, and the staff of the barbershop, is to encourage kids to read while waiting,” Ward said.
So far, Ward said he has almost 1,000 reading materials to provide to the barbershops, which were donated to him through various sources, including the schools and libraries.
“The feedback and support received have been very positive,” Ward said.
Haddonfield is just the start of this initiative, sort of as a phase one or beta test. Ward plans to see if the initiative in Haddonfield is a success. If so, he plans to bring Books in Barbershops to Camden barbershops as a second phase, which Tatem custodian John Yan said he could help initiate. The third phase is to make it available for girls at places they wait, such as hair and nail salons. Ward will test its success by asking barbers if kids have been reading the materials as well as keeping inventory and seeing if anything is gone.
Right now, Books in Barbershops is just run and put together by Ward. He hopes more people will volunteer to help or donate items so he can have a steady stream to supply the barbershops, that way literacy and the love of reading can be spread throughout the area.
For more information on Books in Barbershops or how to help, contact Ward. For volunteer opportunities email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (609) 304–5394.