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A room to groom

On a Tuesday afternoon in Room 214 at Godwin Heights Middle School, barber Vince Jaramillo perfected sixth grader Taisjon Allen’s hair, carefully shaving the sides and shaping the top. Jaramillo shared his skill and Taisjon shared his current literary interest: “The One and Only Ivan” by K.A. Applegate.

Assistant Principal Veola Nelson realized that bad hair days often led to policy violations, sparking the idea for a school barbershop

Welcome to GHMS Barber and Books.

The room sat dormant for the last two years, but thanks to the vision of Jaramillo, his wife Nereida Martinez (who is a paraprofessional at the school), and Assistant Principal Veola Nelson, it’s now a bona fide barbershop. This shop is a little different, though: in lieu of payment, students talk books with the barber, who volunteers a few hours each week to groom students’ hair.

“I know it can be kind of hard for parents to take kids to get a haircut — they’re working, they don’t always have time, and hair gets a little out of control,” said Jaramillo. “You don’t want that at school.”

Middle school students really didn’t want that at school and would often compensate in ways that violated school policy, said Nelson.

“We had quite a few kids struggling with wearing hoodies and having meltdowns in the classroom. When you’d ask them to take [the hoodie] off,” said Nelson, “they would refuse to go back into the classroom. Having conversations with the kids, it was as simple as ‘I’m having a bad hair day.’”

Nelson created a hair kit with combs and other products for students’ hair.

“I would help, physically myself, to do kids’ hair,” said Nelson. “That helped getting them back into the classroom.”

Barber Vince Jaramillo cuts sixth-grader Gael Sosa Saldivar’s hair while hearing about Gael’s favorite book, ‘The Playbook,’ by Kwame Alexander

She’d comb and style hair, but after a while it became time-consuming. Nelson and Martinez put their heads together, and last year students began trekking to Mireya Beauty and Grooming, just a few blocks north of the school, where Jaramillo cuts hair. This year, after some careful planning and a weekly commitment from Jaramillo to volunteer his time and talent, the school barbershop is open for business.

“It’s a good thing to have in school because some kids, they can’t afford a new haircut or their parents don’t have time to get them one,” said Taisjon.

Students can bring a permission slip for either a one-time cut or a cut any time they need one. Since Jaramillo is a barber, he mostly serves boys in the shop. However, he has given trims and cut simple layers for middle school girls in search of traditionally female cuts. He hopes to use his network to find a volunteer to help with longer styles in the shop.

Before the barbershop opened for business a few weeks ago, Jaramillo went around to classrooms and introduced himself and explained how the barbershop works. Nelson said that the biggest thing students wanted to know was, ‘Was he a good barber?’ They wanted to make sure he wasn’t practicing on them, said Nelson, and they wanted to know the cost.

Three weeks into the program, students have kept Jaramillo busy and judging by the reactions from Taisjon and fellow sixth grader Gael Sosa Saldivar, who got a cut after Taisjon, Jaramillo is doing it right.

“They like it — they like talking books and they like getting a free haircut. It puts a smile on their face,” Jaramillo said.

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‘A Lot of Wisdom and Honest Talk’: School Barbershop Builds Self-Esteem, Community

A chalkboard provides a space for students and visitors to write the name of their current favorite book
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Bridie Bereza
Bridie Bereza
Bridie Bereza hails from Lansing and has worked in the Grand Rapids area as a reporter, freelance writer, and communicator since graduating from Aquinas College in 2003. She feels privileged to cover West Michigan's public schools and hopes to shed a little light on the amazing things happening there through her reporting.

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