Trey Loucks climbed into the barber’s chair at Fulton County Barbershop in Gloversville Tuesday afternoon and picked up a well-read copy of “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish” by Dr. Seuss.
As barber Mike Medina cut Trey’s hair, the 8-year-old quietly read the rhymes aloud. Medina asked questions from time to time, or leaned in to listen more closely. By the time Trey’s back-to-school haircut was finished, he was telling Medina all about his classes and teachers.
As Trey hopped out of the chair, Medina looked up at the boy’s grandmother and said, “He’s a good reader, this one.”
Medina, who opened Fulton County Barbershop on Main Street almost four years ago, is helping to kick off the school year with a 50 percent discount on haircuts through Tuesday
for anyone age 4 to 17 who reads aloud during the haircut. Kids are welcome to bring their own books or pick one from a collection at the shop.
Trey is going to start fourth grade in the Greater Johnstown School District next Tuesday, and his grandmother, Judy Loucks, said she brought him in for a haircut not knowing about the special promotion.
“I think it’s a good idea,” she said. “Kids need to be reading.”
Celestine Togbe brought her three young children for haircuts Tuesday. As 9-year-old Michael Togbe, a classmate of Trey’s, read to Medina, Togbe said she makes her kids read before they’re allowed to get on a tablet or other electronic device.
“Once they are on those tablets, it’s difficult,” she said.
Jason Ortiz, another barber at Fulton County Barbershop, said he has the same problem with his stepdaughter. As he cut hair Tuesday, he said he makes sure she reads at least one chapter before spending time with electronics.
“If you let them, they’ll be on the tablets and the games all day,” he said. “I was always taught that reading is like exercise for the brain.”
Togbe appreciated the reading aspect of the promotion, but she also appreciated the discount. The costs of preparing three kids for the beginning of the school year can add up quickly, she said, so any relief is welcome.
As a barber, Medina said he’s grown tired of seeing clients sit down in the chair and stare silently at their smartphones for the duration of the haircut. The promotion is one small way to help break that trend and encourage reading, he said.
“It’s cool to stay with the times and have those little gadgets. I have them myself,” he said. “But I always say it’s sometimes good to write a letter, it’s sometimes good to turn a page. Exercise your eyes, your brain.”
On the first day of the promotion, he said, he came across a lot of shy readers. Some kids wanted to read silently, but he coaxed them into reading aloud. He turned the music up in the shop a little to put them more at ease. And, like a teacher, he would stop and help with words along the way.
“A lot of them are shy about it, but I’m telling you, once you get a little conversation sparked and you show them that they really don’t have anything to be worried about or afraid about, they break right out of their shell,” he said.
Medina describes himself as an avid reader with a “huge collection” of books at home. Like Ortiz and Togbe, he said he tries to instill the importance of reading in his two young children and limit their use of digital devices.
And while it’s the kids who are reading in his barber chair, it’s really the parents Medina is trying to reach. If a barber can get a kid to read, he said, so can they.
“That’s where it starts,” he said.
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