Clemson University Students Encouraging Reading at Black Barbershops

The Call Me MISTER (Mentors Instructing Students Toward Effective Role Models) program originated at Clemson University in South Carolina in 2000 with the goal of placing more male teachers from diverse backgrounds into the nation’s classrooms. The program now has chapters at 20 other colleges and universities throughout the South.

The Clemson program is now sending students to local barbershops each week to inform children — and their parents — on the importance of reading early and often. These weekly sessions are the focus of Razor Readers, a program funded by the United Way of Pickens County that aims to increase children’s access to reading materials and individuals that can serve as educational role models.

The United Way grant award has been used to provide books for children ages 0-10 in participating barbershops. Children can read the books while waiting in line for haircuts or in their free time. The barbers have punch cards for each child that when filled qualify them for a free haircut.

Parent and caregiver engagement makes up the other half of the program. Before and during haircuts, MISTERs guide parents through early education tools to increase school readiness. These tools will help parents engage with their children and encourage reading at home and school.

Amity Buckner, executive director of Pickens County First Steps, notes that “this is a wonderful opportunity for Call Me MISTER students who are so passionate about education to instill a love for reading and education in children. When you realize that a MISTER may be the first African-American male these young learners meet that values education, you realize the potential impact of this program.”

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