Principal Dr. Terrance Newton set up a real barbershop inside the school to bond with his students and help them talk about whatever is bothering them.
Principal Dr. Terrance Newton's mornings begin with the same routine as many of us: by checking his emails and voicemails. However, his routine includes one more item. Before the school bell rings, Newton also makes a note of how many haircut appointments he has lined up for the day. Although it sounds quite odd, this elementary school principal has a perfectly good reason for why he sets apart time to style and groom the hair of his students at Warner Elementary School in Wilmington, Delaware. For the 45-year-old and his students, these appointments are a bonding experience.
What a Great start of the 2019-2020 school year at Warner Elementary. #WarnerThundrbirds #WeAreRedClay pic.twitter.com/fSv4RKsh46— @WarnerPrincipal (@warnerprincipal) August 19, 2019
According to Good Morning America, Newton—known as Dr. Newton or simply Newt—is a first-year principal at the school and quickly noticed the high suspension rate and the alarming number of behavioral write-ups that crossed his desk. He knew he needed to do something to change this worrying trend and strengthen his bond with students to understand why they acted out. Newton revealed that as someone who had prior experience cutting hair, he got the unorthodox idea of building a real barbershop in the school as soon as he saw available space.
Tonight on Nightly News, a principal with sharp ideas and even sharper clippers. Dr. Terrance Newton opened up a barbershop at his elementary school to better connect with his students and improve their self esteem.— Ricardo Montero (@RicardoMonteroH) January 18, 2020
Catch my story on your local NBC station. pic.twitter.com/TZ4K9k8e0Y
The school barbershop is equipped with everything from clippers and scissors to combs and grooming capes. While most of the supplies were paid for from Newton's own pocket, some were donated by members of the community. "Just like any barbershop, that's how we learn a lot, that's how we build relationships. Ninety percent of what I know in life I learned in the barbershop," he said. The principal revealed that as he'd learned life skills like communication, listening, and proper etiquette at the barbershop while growing up, he now hopes to pass those lessons on to his students.
For Dr. Terrance Newton, many life lessons were learned in the barbershop. Now he's passing them on to students at his Delaware elementary school.— NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt (@NBCNightlyNews) January 18, 2020
The principal is giving out free haircuts and building community.
Watch this story from @jdbalart tonight on @NBCNightlyNews. pic.twitter.com/N3MJg4dTDF
"Of course we would have barbershop talk like sports and politics, but as far as life-wise, when I would go to the barbershop, the conversations with me and my barber were about me staying out trouble, my grades and what's happening in the community," Newton revealed. "I take care of my babies. It's about building that relationship and that bond with them, and I utilize that barbershop to do that, to build connections." These hair appointments with the principal have also helped turn the school around, bringing the number of out-of-school suspensions down from 103 in 2019 to four this year.
"Because I am in an inner-city school that has behavioral problems, academics are low, test scores are low, my ultimate goal is to turn this school around. And we are showing a lot of progress," Newton stated. The school hasn't just seen progress in terms of student behavior. It has also seen an improvement in student relationships as kids who have never connected before chitchat with one another as they wait to get their haircuts. "It's not 'Dr. Newton, my principal,' it's 'Newt, my mentor, my barber.' This is just not a barbershop for me, this is my mentoring sanctuary," said Newton proudly.
Newton's passion for cutting his students' hair began long before he became a principal. Fifteen years ago, as a high school special education teacher, he noticed that a student was slowly becoming defiant and no longer following instructions in the classroom until he eventually stopped showing up to class. He kept an eye out for the child and the next time the student showed up to school, Newton pulled him aside and asked what was going on. He was quite taken aback when the boy told him that he was being bullied because of his haircut.
"I never cut hair before, I am not a barber, but that day I just started playing with the clippers. And with me just cutting his hair, I was able to build a better relationship with him, his attitude changed, he came to school more and he was just overall a better person," Newton revealed. Fast-forward to the present day and he's still changing the lives of his students one haircut at a time. "Am I a professional barber? No. Do I want to be a professional barber? No. I want to do whatever it takes to get my kids to come to school to learn and be successful," he said.
"What we have to do as educators, we have to come up with ideas, with a plan in place that will motivate our kids to want to be successful and we all have to be motivated, somehow, some way," Newton continued. "And if I have to give my kids haircuts to be apart of that, for me to mentor them, for me to give them positive feedback for them to be successful, then that's what I'm going to do."