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Elementary School Principal Bonds With Students During Haircuts

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

You could almost think of the principal at a school in Wilmington, Del., as having a side hustle cutting hair. It's not truly a side hustle, though, since Terrance Newton is not doing this for the money. He's doing it for the kids. About 15 years ago, he says, when he was a teacher, he had trouble connecting with a kid in class.

TERRANCE NEWTON: I had a student who needed a haircut, other students was making fun of him, parents couldn't afford to get his hair cut, so he kind of shut down.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

He needed a way to get in this kid's head, and so he started with his hair.

NEWTON: I just had a little experience from cutting hair, like, cutting my little brother's hair. So I brought my clippers in one day, had him in my classroom, gave him a haircut. You had to see the biggest smile on his face when he came to school the next day. And so his interaction levels was totally different.

INSKEEP: That experience stayed with Newton when he became principal at Warner High School (ph) about a year ago. He noticed that a lot of kids seemed disconnected and had low confidence.

NEWTON: Last year, we had 192 suspensions, and out of the 192, I looked at the data - it was, like, pretty much all our male students.

GREENE: Mostly from low-income families.

NEWTON: And I noticed that they didn't have haircuts.

GREENE: So Principal Newton started a makeshift barbershop at the school.

NEWTON: A friend of mine had a barber chair. She donated a barber chair to me - and just started fixing up a little room. I put a TV in there. And I'd bring them together. I cut their hair and then we talk. I mean, it just kind of built that bond, built that relationship, kind of using that time to tell them my expectations, just using that time to collaborate.

GREENE: That barbershop was a hit.

NEWTON: The word was out. Mr. Newton can cut hair. Oh, my God. He can cut hair. And when the kids seen it, oh, that's a good job. That's a good job. So I was able to use that to kind of connect with kids.

INSKEEP: Principal Newton says he's not done yet. His goal for next year is blazers and ties. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.