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Madison students get clipped for reading

Susan Notes:

This is a feel good story every-which-way. I laughed with fond memory when I saw "Miss Nelson" in the barber's chair.Miss Nelson elicits such a strong positive force in my life that I have a Miss Nelson coffee mug.

Note that this barber gives the children the books they've read aloud.

Jennifer DeWitt

Isabella Shane sat as still as she could, focused intently on reading a book about the adventures of the Five Little Monkeys.

Covered in a black plastic drape, the 8-year-old paid little attention as snips of her fine hair slid off barber scissors to her lap and the floor. Instead, she read each line in "Five Little Monkeys Play Hide-and-Seek."

"'We'll be good!' shout the monkeys ...," Isabella read aloud sitting in a classroom-turned-barber shop. "Then it's right off to bed that's what your mom said."

As the Davenport third-grader stumbled on a few words, Kathie Heaps pulled away her clippers and helped her.

"There you go. You sounded it out," Heaps told the Madison Elementary student.

Minutes earlier, 11-year-old Anthony Duran, a Madison fifth-grader, sat in the same makeshift barber chair and expertly read "Miss Nelson is Missing" to Heaps as he said she could "cut a little off the sides."

Heaps, who works at Hair Devine and is a reading tutor, began offering free haircuts to students at the central Davenport school three months ago in exchange for them reading her a book.

"You don't pay for haircuts here even though I've been cutting hair 37 years," she told Anthony. "I don't get paid money. I get paid joy."

She said her paycheck comes from hearing them read and seeing their reaction to their haircut and when they learn they can keep the book.

After reading his book, Anthony smiled and nodded his head when Heaps asked, "Good trade?" "You can really read,'' she told him.

Heaps admits the idea came from post she saw on Facebook by an eastern Iowa barber, who was giving away haircuts to children who sat and read for him.

Heaps, of Eldridge, chose Madison to offer her services to because she already volunteers there both as a tutor and with her church St. Paul Lutheran, which runs the school's food pantry, Madison Market. The hair cuts are offered when the food pantry is open.

Marisa Bloom, the Families Program assistant for Iowa State University Extension, said the haircuts help meet another need for the school's families. Through a Families Matter program, the school and the Extension offer various outreach efforts to the whole family.

"Our biggest goal is to be a bridge to resources," she said. "Sometimes, they see the school as one place and home as another; we help bridge that gap.

"Our motto is when families do better, children do better."

When he first heard of Heaps' idea, Madison principal Steve Mielenhausen said, "I didn't know what to think because it was so out of the box."

But the program moves the school closer to becoming a full-service community school, he said. Mielenhausen said the new school model provides yet another layer of support for the school's families.

"We believe at school that our families are just as important as our kids," he said.

Heaps, who calls her service "a reading program," said initially she planned to cut only kids' hair. "But I thought the parents look like they need a haircut as bad as the kids."

While parents, guardians and older siblings are not required to read a book, she does give them a slip of paper that says, "You have just been given a gift ... go out and pay it forward. Do something nice for someone else!"

A month earlier, Isabella's 16-year-old sister, Gwen Johnson, was thrilled to get a free haircut from Heaps.

"I had a haircut planned, but my Mom lost her job," she said. "When we found out (Heaps) provided free haircuts, my Mom was so happy."

"It's a blessing," Gwen said, showing off a picture of what her hair looked like after the cut. "We have three girls (including her mother) in our house, and my hair can take an hour at a salon. We couldn't afford that."

— Jennifer DeWitt
Quad City Business Journal



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