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Elementary school styles students’ hair to boost confidence

November 25, 2018

GRAND ISLAND, Neb. (AP) — Howard Elementary School teacher Bianca Ayala greeted students as they entered a classroom at the school on a recent Monday morning, surrounded by hair straighteners, curling irons and totes of hair supplies.

As one girl sat down at a desk, Ayala asked: “Are we going to straighten your hair today?” The girl replied, “Yes,” leading Ayala to brush the student’s hair before straightening it with a hair straightener.

“We talk to the kids when they get here,” Ayala said. “We tell them the things we can do with their hair, such as straightening it, curling it or putting it in a bun.”

The student was one of about a dozen students who got their hair styled at a before school program called Books and Braids, the Grand Island Independent reported. Ayala said the program was started as a way for students to feel better about themselves.

“We chose Mondays because we feel that when students are at home, that is when things happen and they come to school Monday with the ‘Monday blues.’ So we thought this would make them feel better,” she said.

Ayala said the idea for Books and Braids came about after she scrolled through Twitter and saw a Kearney Hub story about a similar program at an elementary school in Kearney. She talked with Howard teacher LeighAnn Miller and Principal Julie Schnitzler about the idea and both approved of it.

From there, Ayala said, she and Miller sought hair supply donations from the community. The supplies came in and the pair started sending out fliers with students and on PeachJar, an online bulletin board used by Grand Island Public Schools, to encourage students to join Books and Braids.

Ayala said the program started on Oct. 8 with 14 students and is now up to 30 to 45 kids depending on the week. Books and Braids meets at 7:15 a.m. every Monday.

Two students who got their hair styled Monday morning were fourth-graders Mirian Dominguez and Melinda Perez. Melinda said she had her hair put into two braids, while Mirian had hers put into curls and a braid.

Melinda said she had attended Books and Braids before, but this was the first time she has had her hair put in two braids. She called it a new look for her and said she liked how her hair looked.

“I go to the babysitter and when I wake up, I always have to do my hair because it is out,” she said. “When I saw that (flier for Books and Braids), I decided to come.”

Melinda added that getting her hair done at Books and Braids gives her confidence and makes her feel better as she goes on with her school day.

Mirian said she had attended Books and Braids four or five times prior to Monday. She added she chooses to “switch it up a little bit” with her hair styles every time she attends.

“My mom and dad have to go to work in the morning, so they do not always have time to do my hair,” she said.

Mirian added that Books and Braids allows her to get to school quicker in the morning and gives her the opportunity to get her hair done before class starts. She, too, has increased confidence and feels better throughout the day after getting her hair done.

Third-grader William Bautista said he typically gets gel in his hair and sometimes gets it spiked up. He added he likes getting his hair done as it makes him feel good.

William said the program allows him to be on time to school, while also giving him a chance to get his hair done before class.

He said being involved in Books and Braids gives him more confidence as he goes about his school day.

In addition to getting their hair styled, Ayala said students are able to read books while waiting to get it done.

“The one reason we decided to add the books is because we read a lot of the same books in the classroom due to following our reading curriculum,” she said. “We are always encouraging children to read for their own choice. We thought having them (books) in here while they are waiting for their hair to be done allows them to read a book they want to read.”

While she waited to get her hair done, Mirian said she reads books. She tends to read aloud in a small group with her friends. Melinda said she, too, read some books while waiting to get her hair done.

Ayala said she sees students having more confidence after attending Books and Braids on Monday morning.

“We see them just have a smile on their face and seem to walk a little bit taller through the hallways,” she said. “They tell the other teachers they see about their hair. They are just proud to have their hair done.”

Ayala said those wishing to donate supplies for Howard’s Books and Braids program, or who want to volunteer to help style students’ hair, can do so by contacting the school. She hopes to continue the program for the rest of the school year and next year if it fits into teachers’ schedules.

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Information from: The Grand Island Independent, http://www.theindependent.com

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