North Philadelphia: Promoting Literacy To Parents And Children In Unlikely Places

North Philadelphia: Promoting Literacy To Parents And Children In Unlikely Places
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A shave, a haircut … and a good book?

A North Philadelphia barber shop is part of a program to help increase literacy and help strengthen the community.

Jasmond Schoolfield, better known as “Jazz the Barber,” owns Creative Image Unisex Hair Salon at 2737 W. Cecil B. Moore Ave.

Putting down his hair cutting tools, he takes a seat near his new book nook full of reading materials geared toward kids inside the shop.

“It was a great opportunity to participate in the program,” said Jazz. “I have my bookshelf here and the customers can read to their kids while they wait for their haircut.”

It is an effort by Words at Play Vocabulary Initiative, a communitywide, grant-funded program bringing literacy to communities at places like local barbershops or grocery stores, and Read by 4th, a citywide campaign bringing together a growing coalition of partners working toward the goal of getting children in Philadelphia reading on grade level by the time they enter the fourth grade.

Annabelle Recierdo, Talk It Up project manager, said that through signs hanging at local businesses, families are invited to explore opportunities for conversation and interaction around reading.

“It is our hope that these signs will encourage fun learning opportunities in spaces you would not normally expect to learn,” said Recierdo. “We are trying to capture the idea of extending learning beyond the classroom. A sign may serve as a reminder to the parent to pause and have a meaningful interaction with their daughter or son.”

People can go into participating barbershops in Philadelphia and see signs which encourage learning, interaction and engagement. The new initiative addresses child literacy in families of low-income neighborhoods.

It’s an opportunity for both parents and children to spend more time together.

“As they are in these shops, they will see these signage and get them interacting with each other,” said Reciderdo.

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“It’s about reading signs as far as the Talk It Up programs goes,” said Jazz. “Like this one to help with their cognitive skills. It says, ‘How many words can you name that rhyme with hair?’ The barbershop is the cornerstone of the community. So kids are here with their parents and are engaged with what is going on in the neighborhood.”

Recierdo believes the key is that very conversation Jazz is encouraging and that early literacy skills start with that back and forth conversation.

“So, before you can teach a child to read, they need to have a vocabulary,” said Recierdo. “It may not feel like reading when they are here at the barbershop reading signs with their parents because it seems fun.”

Kate Zmich, director of Community Programs & Fun at Smith Memorial Playground, which is creating the signs, firmly believes the way the initiative can succeed is if it supports families as the best and first teachers of children.

“The biggest challenge for parents is time,” said Zmich. “Some work multiple jobs and odd hours.”

Parents who participated in the Read by 4th program said it was a new and different approach to teaching their children how to read while juggling day to day work-life balance.

“I really thought the program was helpful,” said 42-year-old Leroy Fegley, a parent who participated in the program with Kendall, his 8-year-old daughter, at Jazz’s barbershop. “I only get to spend time with my daughter on the weekends. So this let the two of us spend time together, while getting a learning experience out of it and I was able to cross off something on my to-do list, like get my beard trimmed.”

According to Zmich, it’s easier to reach parents at these events than at PTA meetings, for example, because they are already there.

“The hope is that parents recognize we are trying to help them, empower them to understand they can be teachers themselves in everyday situations,” said Zmich. “Adding in a learning experience at a barbershop and making it fun and less chaotic is part of why we are hopeful this initiative will work.”

“We read more at home now since we participated in the program,” said Fegley, who lives in Olney, of his daughter who is in the fourth grade. “She makes me read to her every night now. I am enjoying watching how she has improved. She practically reads the book to me now.”

Zmich aims to evaluate the results and make improvements throughout the project.

“We hope to learn how and why certain signs are most effective and engaging, the nature of a good site partnership and best hardware for signage installations,” said Zmich.

She said once they can track how the project is successful in increasing the quality and quantity of caregiver and child playful learning interactions, the initiative plans to publish the results to help people access Talk It Up on a larger scale. Zmich envisions bringing these programs that are a little bit playful but with cues toward literacy to parents where they can engage their kids.

“We hope to help construct a playbook for continuing and expanding Talk It Up,” said Zmich. “Smith’s mission is to bring the playground to children, so to speak. We see the playground as a learning landscape itself.”

The initiative is expected to expand to 20 more partner locations by January of 2019.

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