By Cassie L. Smith
WACO, Texas (AP) – Fourth-grader Noah Jimerson, 10, read a pop-up version book of “The 12 Days of Christmas” while Waco barber Ivan LeBlanc cut his hair.
The Waco Tribune-Herald reports while Noah loves to read books about superheroes and aliens, he recently read for a new goal: $2.
A page into the book, Noah, who had picked the book off the bookcase, looked up excitedly to announce he knew the song. Stumbling to pronounce “partridge,” LeBlanc helped the 10-year-old sound out the word, and the next time the word resurfaced, Noah said it with more ease.
With encouragement from a Waco Independent School District math teacher, LeBlanc recently started a literary program at Look At Me Now Barbershop. He gives $2 to any kid who reads to him while getting a haircut.
“In the black community, the barbershops have a lot of influence,” LeBlanc said. “Most people know the barbers. We’re a big part of the community. We get a lot of people that come through here, and they all know us. We know what they are going through. I figure if we do know everybody, why not use that influence in a good way. I’m in a position where I can meet a lot of people. I try and use that to my advantage.
“Traditionally, you talk about sports and politics and religion, but the barbershop is comprised of all different walks of lives, different jobs. This is the one meeting place. It’s the one place that everyone from the community comes.”
Mary Evans said she grew up with LeBlanc, so when she saw social media posts about other barbershops across the country doing the same project, she encouraged her friend to participate.
As a teacher, Evans, who is also a children’s picture book author, said state testing prevents educators from exposing children to everything they need. The program is especially important in the black community, because a majority of teachers tend to be white and typically don’t go out of their way to get literature that represents broad cultural experiences because they have to pick books that follow the state’s standard.
LeBlanc, who has cut hair for 17 years, said word about the program has spread quicker than he expected.
A bookcase and more than 160 books had been donated to the program within a week of starting, he said. The kids are free to browse through the titles, which include “The Frog Prince,” “Charlotte’s Web,” “Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present,” children’s Bible stories and more.
Children don’t have to fall in a certain age range to read for the $2, LeBlanc said.
Recently, a 2-year-old climbed up into the barber seat. LeBlanc said the child couldn’t read, but as the child moved from page to page he asked him to point out certain objects.
“Even though he wasn’t reading, he still had the book open and he was engaged with the pictures,” he said.
Samantha Gillens, Noah’s mother, said LeBlanc has cut the boy’s hair for six months.
Gillens said both her children love to read and seek out information on their own. She said the literacy program at the barbershop is great because so many kids spend their time browsing social media pages with their heads buried in whatever device they carry around. Encouraging children to read is positive because reading helps stimulate the brain, Gillens said.
LeBlanc said his wife, Delicia Johnson, is a Waco ISD pre-kindergarten teacher, so the family does a lot of reading at home.
Johnson said they hope the program helps promote a positive, active literary life for children.
“All children need to practice fluency and comprehension skills, and why not read while getting a haircut?” she said.
Society can’t expect children to succeed in school if they don’t read, LeBlanc said, wearing a shirt that reads “#PromoteLiteracy one cut at a time.”
The way conditioning prepares athletes for their sports, reading books provides comprehension skills that extend beyond the classroom, he said.
LeBlanc, a product of Waco ISD, said he’s taking book donations as well as donations to help pay each child $2.
“Two dollars is a small investment if it’s going to help kids to do better in school,” said the husband and father of three.