WAXAHACHIE — Strengthening the connection not only within the classroom but also between student and teacher, Oliver E. Clift Elementary launched its newest program “Bows, Bowties, and Books” to inspire reading while dressing to the nines.

“Since we had some kids in first grade last year struggling with their reading, we just wanted a way to reach out to them where it wasn’t just, ‘Here’s a book, go read. Let’s work, work, work,’” expressed Hayley Gilmore, a Clift Elementary fourth-grade teacher and co-organizer of the program.

“We wanted to make reading personable, fun, and exciting and not just work all the time, and to have the kids capture a love for it,” she added. “We’re also building relationships with our students, and I think that’s the best part."

What started as a glance at a Facebook post of another teacher doing a similar project soon turned into one of the most popular outlets of the school, recalled both Gilmore and Mandy Allen, a Clift Elementary first grade teacher, and co-partner of the program.

Every Tuesday and Thursday, students arrive before the school bell rings and find a seat in the library to pick a “good read” while also having a moment to be pampered by their teachers.

“We wanted to include the boys too, so Ms. Gilmore does their bowties and puts gel in their hair, and it just starts off their morning in a really fun way,” Allen articulated.

“They love it,” Gilmore jumped in about the students' reaction. “I really thought the boys wouldn’t be excited about it, but my boys come in, and they’ve been learning how to tie ties in the afternoons, and they’re like, ‘Can I come in and help tie ties in the morning?’ So they’re helping, and we’ve had a great reaction from both boys and girls.”

“With the girls, sometimes they’ll wear the braids the next day, but the boys will wear their ties the next day,” affirmed Anita Barnes, Clift Elementary’s counselor.

Along with the school's new start of improving the classroom through the "Capturing Kids’ Hearts" initiative from the Flippen Group organization, Gilmore and Allen’s adaptation goes hand-in-hand with the project as more students get involved.

“We wanted to work on building relationships and seeing if that helps academics” Gilmore acknowledged. “Because if they don’t know that you are about them, then they don’t work as hard.”

“It helps start their day off in a positive way, and they go in thinking it’s a safe place here, I’m loved here, and I can look good,” she included.

“I just come here to get my hair cute,” giggled third grader, Alexis Hanrahan. “Usually I do it by myself because nobody can do my hair in the mornings, so I just come here on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and I get a book about sharks because I like sharks.”

“I really like it,” smiled Scarlet Cochran, a second grader. “It makes me feel happy.”

“One little boy came in one morning, and it was so funny, but he got the tie with a cheetah on it, and he was so excited because he was like, ‘It’s my mom’s birthday today, and so I wanted to come get a tie,’” Allen recalled. “He was so excited.”

“I have a couple of boys who say, ‘I’m just here for the cologne, so I smell good today,’” Gilmore added with a chuckle. “And some days it’s really hard to turn kids away because we just have too many and they love being in here.”

Though Gilmore and Allen have limited time and resources to reach every student, the program is run entirely out of teacher volunteerism and donations.

“One morning we did 40 students and it was so much fun,” Allen recollected. “It just depends on how many teachers we have that come in to do hair. So the more teachers, the more students, we can see.”

Currently reaching out to cosmetology schools and other organizations for the possibility to get involved with this early morning program, Gilmore and Allen are also accepting “style donations” of clean bowties, bows, or funds for new products to reach more students.

“It just gets the kids more inspired for literacy and also collaboration,” Barnes recognized the project’s influence. “Its teachers building relationships with the students and the same with the students to teachers. I think it’s just a calm and cool way to start the day.”

“When they go into a class feeling special, they’re more engaged and getting what they need in their academics for the day,” she added.

“If anyone wants to donate, we’d be more than happy to have it,” Gilmore acknowledged. “We try to recycle what we can, and disinfect the returned ties and bows, but we have a lot of kids who love this and usually end up keeping what we give them.”

“We love doing this program,” Allen agreed. “And the kids seem to be benefitting from it in the classroom, and they just love it.”

To connect or donate to the “Bows, Bowties, and Books” program, visit Clift Elementary at 650 Park School House Road, Waxahachie, or call (972)-923-4720.

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Chelsea Groomer, @ChelseaGroomer

(469)-517-1450