DOVER, Del. (AP) — Tucked away in the back of a small gym at Central Middle School, there is some magic happening.
It is a spot where students can gain self-confidence by getting free haircuts from volunteer barbers and hairstylists each Monday.
The roots for the Central Middle Hair Studio were a brainstorm between Natalie Way, site coordinator for the school’s Nita M. Lowey 21st Century Community Learning Center, and teacher Ioma Gray.
“It was just a marriage of ideas,” Ms. Way said. “Ioma Gray and myself were sitting (in Central Middle) and came to each other, and we were like, ‘Hey, what about doing a barbershop for the kids?’
“She said, ‘Yeah, I think that would be a really good idea,’ and so we decided that was what was going to happen.”
Ms. Gray said, once they got the ball rolling for a free salon for students in need, it didn’t take long at all to open, which they did Nov. 7, 2022.
“This gives them more confidence and allows them to feel better about themselves,” said Ms. Gray. “It took us a minute to, kind of, get everything going, but I felt like this was our way of giving back, and the outside community assists us with just coming in and volunteering.
“We just felt like there was a need and maybe the parents weren’t in a position to provide haircuts right now.”
The educators decided to open the salon on Mondays, since barbers and stylists don’t typically work in their own businesses that day.
To receive a free ’do, parents sign a release indicating that their child can participate.
The haircuts usually begin around 9:30 in the morning — during the school’s first related arts period — and continue until around 12:30 or 1. Since the studio’s inception, there have been more than 100 cuts.
“(Central Middle teacher) Al Roach acquainted with a bunch of the barbers and beauticians in the community, and they come in and volunteer their time on Monday. They’re local celebrities,” Ms. Gray said.
“We have probably 15 barbers and stylists that volunteer their time for us. This just helps the kids and makes them feel really good about themselves.”
That pride was clear one recent Monday, as four students walked back to class after their appointments.
“I just want to thank all the barbers,” said Jahad Clark, an eighth grader. “I love how those guys cut our hair, and I hope they keep up the good work and help out the community.”
At the same time, the cutting volunteers enjoy camaraderie during their interactions with students.
“I think it’s really good for the kids, you know?” said Edwin Dinglas, a volunteer barber. “Mondays are my slow days anyways. It’s supposed to be my day off, but I know a good deed always comes back. I’m here to help the kids.”
His thoughts were mirrored by Douglas Moon, who also provides services at Janai’ds The Salon for Men on West Loockerman Street in Dover.
“This is beautiful,” Mr. Moon said. “I love what they’re doing for the kids. This is my day off, and I like kids anyway, so this is all worth it to me.”
Mr. Roach said Central Middle pupils appear to have really taken to the school salon.
“The kids have been coming down. They’re excited about the barbers,” he said. “Some are like, ‘I want this one to cut my hair,’ then they come down and hang out as long as they can, though we try not to let them hang out too long.
“I’ve owned a barbershop before, and I know how it’s a struggle in getting haircuts sometimes. I reached out to a few people, barbers and all, and asked them could they come in, and we started this. We all work together in getting it done, and we’re thankful to the barbers for coming in and doing what they’re doing.”
Everything falls into place
The timing of the Central Middle School Hair Studio was uncanny.
The coordination between Ms. Way, Ms. Gray and Mr. Roach allowed them to open the salon in under three weeks after the idea was sparked.
To help, assistant principal Dave Thomas had barbershop chairs donated from Town Hair Salon in Newark. And Mr. Roach convinced area stylists that their services were needed for youth in the community.
“The timing was very, very convenient,” Mr. Thomas said. “The kids are loving it. It’s just one more piece that we can try to appeal to one, two, 1,000 kids that might like to learn more about (hairstyling).”
Joe Evans, principal at Central Middle, is also grateful for the initiative.
“I think it builds self-esteem, pride for our students and, of course, in our community, (and) our parents love it,” he said. “It gets (them) to save with the cost of everything going up (in price) right now. It’s a wonderful opportunity for our kids.
“We have a great appreciation for our barbers and stylists. They volunteer their time, and they ask for nothing. They just take their time off on their Mondays and give back. We love how they’re willing to give back to our students and our community.”