By Jody Steinberg

Senior cosmetology student Patricia Fuentes styles a wig as part of her studies. The program is taught in the DeKalb Schools Career Technology program at Cross Keys High School.

As Dunwoody high school senior Meiosha Bethea packed her rollers and freshly-styled mannequin head, she considered her cosmetology class.

“I want to learn to do things the right way,” Meiosha said. “In here, we actually do hands on.”

By year’s end, Meiosha and her classmates at Cross Keys High School will have learned to color and style hair with a variety of techniques, chemicals and tools. They will have learned to apply makeup, give facials and manicures. And they will understand essential health and safety requirements related to cosmetology while earning 450-600 credit hours towards the 1,500 required for licensing in Georgia.

That’s enough to land them an entry-level job or earn advanced placement in a cosmetology certification program such as the one offered at DeKalb Technical College. Many also will develop business management proficiencies through SkillsUSA, a co-curricular leadership program for technical students.

Once she completes high school, Meiosha plans to earn a college degree in International Business. So why spend half of every day of her senior year traveling to another school to study cosmetology? Aside from the obvious – she loves working with hair – Meiosha is pragmatic. “It never hurts to learn a skill,” she said

Meiosha’s cosmetology classes are among six programs sharing the new Career Technology wing at Cross Keys. Students begin the three-hour class on one of side of the room, where textbooks, computers and interactive whiteboards are the tools for study to reinforce their comprehension of the effects of chemistry, electricity and elements on hair and skin, said instructor Sylvia Sims.

For the second part of the class, students cross the dividing wall to practice the craft they want to master.

The large sunny salon has workstations for up to 40 students, as well as hair sinks, nail stations and a private bathroom and entrance for patrons. Nine weeks into the program, students are styling mannequin heads with rollers and finger whips, sharing tips and advice, producing unique and stylish “dos.”

Soon they will practice on live models. Sims anticipates inviting neighbors for a few open house days.

This is the 11th year of teaching cosmetology for Sims, who came to Cross Keys from the former High School Technology North.

When the DeKalb school system closed the technology school, six of the popular occupational education programs – along with their teachers and equipment – moved to Cross Keys, where all but the automotive program, which took a one-year hiatus, operated out of large trailers last year.

The new classrooms are equipped to meet the educational requirements of the professional organizations that govern each industry. For example, the automotive classroom requires certain testing equipment and auto bays with hydraulic lifts; the construction classroom displays plumbing pipes, exposed areas for electrical wiring and ample space for building scaled-down models; and the cosmetology classroom looks like a large salon.

It all leads back to the importance of hands-on experience, Sims said, as she listed the academic requirements of her curriculum, which include chemistry and electricity.

“Research and hands-on experience go hand-in-hand,” Sims said. “You can’t just do hair unless you understand how the chemical reactions work. When they have more hands-on to follow the research, students are more inclined to actually learn. It’s ‘learn as you do.’”

Most of the students in Sims’ morning class want more than a job in a salon – they want to run their own businesses.

Senior Patricia Fuentes plans to get a salon job immediately after graduation to earn her credentials as a cosmetologist. Classmate Zenaga McDaniel spent her summer working in a salon in New Jersey, but plans to earn a four-year business degree before launching her cosmetology career.

Mycala Edwards, a Dunwoody senior, calls cosmetology “my plan B.” After college, she wants to own her own dance studio.

But Edwards said she knows the skills learned in cosmetology class will be an asset.

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Vocational programs taught in DeKalb high schools
The DeKalb Schools Career Technology program provides students with job readiness skills and training to give them a head start in more than a dozen fields.
According to DeKalb County Schools, career education begins with short courses in middle school that introduce students to career options. In high school, students must pass all the requisite core classes – English, math, science – each year, but by their junior and senior years can enroll in a wide range of vocational classes where they can study theory as well as gain actual experience in a supervised teaching environment. In each program, students can earn certificates and accredited hours towards post-secondary technical colleges and skilled jobs.
Money from the 1-cent local option sales tax (SPLOST) has allowed DeKalb to build state-of-the-art classrooms in every high school, from high-tech computer centers and kitchens for culinary arts to fully-equipped labs for students to learn and practice health sciences, construction, automotive, engineering, graphic design, cosmetology and more. Most schools offer three or four career tracks.
Students can enroll in career tech programs away from their home school within either the northern or southern part of the county and are transported daily by bus. Students who take career tech in their home schools can earn more classroom credit hours.
–Jody Steinberg