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No beauty school dropouts here: Vo-tech makes a comeback at Hays CISD

By Kim Hilsenbeck

On Halloween, students in the Hays High cosmetology program were practicing their make-up skills. Mannequin heads around the room seemed to peer down on the students, all wearing black smocks, black pants and closed-toe black shoes.

Two rooms, a salon with workstations on one side and a classroom on the other, create a practical experience facility for the roughly 20 juniors in the program.

The two-year program is available to juniors and seniors but only juniors could begin this year, according to Suzi Mitchell, director of Career and Technology at Hays CISD.

With money from the May 10 bond passed by Hays CISD voters, the district expanded its vocational — these days it’s called technical — offerings, including a cosmetology program that can train up to 50 students a year per high school.

Suzi was the Hays CISD administrator in charge of implementing the program from scratch. The classrooms in Hays and Lehman high schools had to be remodeled and furnished. She hired instructors, helped develop the curriculum, shopped for furniture and even chose paint colors for the walls.

But she didn’t do everything alone.

Lisa Mitchell, no relation to Suzi, read about Hays CISD’s new cosmetology program in the Hays Free Press several months ago. That’s how she started researching the opening for an instructor.

“I still have the article,” she said.

Lisa got the job as the Hays High teacher for the cosmetology program, which is one of several career tracks under Hays CISD’s Career and Technology unit. Culinary arts, welding, cosmetology and health sciences are some of the offerings for students. Suzi also wants to start a medical billing class next year.

It’s a shift in philosophy at Hays CISD and across the secondary education spectrum. The thinking goes that high school should prepare students for life – with marketable skills – because not all students are going to college. 

Katarina Perez is the cosmetology teacher at Lehman.

She, Lisa and Suzi had about three months after voters approved the bond package to get everything ready to open in August. That included becoming licensed by the state to operate as a salon.

“It was a lot of work. We could have waited another year, but these students are benefitting from the program now,” Suzi said, gesturing toward the girls in the room.

Lisa gave a tour of the salon classroom.

“The students have been in class ten weeks. They are learning braiding, make-up and hairstyles. Soon they will move on to hair coloring and permanent waves,” she said.

Throughout the two-year program, Lisa said they will also learn about manicures, pedicures, acrylic nails, facials, paraffin wraps, hot towel wraps and waxing.

“They learn about the biology of skin and the science behind using chemicals,” Lisa said.

She attended Longhorn Beauty School. She also went to Total Transformation to become a certified instructor. For the past several years, she was a salon manager.

For Lisa, coming back to Hays High is a familiar feeling. She graduated from HHS in 2004 and lives in Kyle. She had no trouble talking up the cosmetology program, smiling all the while. 

Students wanting to get into the program attended a meeting where Lisa gave potential students a brief overview, dress requirements and what they should expect.

“When these students graduate, they’re going to be able to go get their state license,” she said.

Hays CISD charges $600 per student ($300 per year), but if they get their state license, the district refunds $300 back to the student.

“It costs us more than $600 for the kits and books,” Suzi said, “but I want them to have the buy in [to the program]and I want them to be able to afford it.”

Most commercial cosmetology courses cost anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000.

What is included in the $600 fee?

Lisa showed off the large black bag that each student receives. It contains a smock, a kit with all professional products including a hairdryer and a textbook.

She estimated it would cost about $600 for all those items at retail prices.

Lisa said her students also take before and after photos of hairstyles to use in a portfolio. During the program, she will also cover professionalism, interviewing skills and she will bring in monthly guest speakers. Topics may include finances, interviewing skills and running your own salon business. 

In addition, she emphasizes cleaning and sanitation and tells the students how important it is to maintain a clean facility. Kristen Vasquez, who is in the program and has a receptionist job at a Great Clips salon, said she can attest to the importance of cleaning.

What prompted the girls to take this class?

“I’m the girliest one out of my sisters,” Torie Ortega said. “I braid my little sister’s hair every night.”

Both girls said they want to go to college for business.

Beginning in the spring, Hair by Hays (the name of the salon) will open its doors to the public on special nights. Clients will receive salon services at a discount because the students need experience.

But Lisa plans to offer at least one salon night before the holiday break. The students will offer manicures, pedicures and braids.

“A lot of people that I tell how much it costs to get in here, they say it’s a great price,” Kristen said.

“Many of the professionals in the area I’ve talked to seem excited about the program,” Lisa said.

On the other side of the salon, Sierra Gonzalez was having her hair curled by Jennifer Alejandro. Sierra heard about the program last year from her mom.

“I told her I would be willing to do that,” she said. “But it seemed really fun.”

She already loved doing make-up.

What would she say to anyone thinking about signing up for the cosmetology program?

“Just go for it. It’s a really fun program,” Sierra said. “You learn a lot from it. You get to do a lot of stuff you never did before.”

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