Brianna Anderson, a senior at Colonial Forge High School, will end the school year not just with her diploma, but something that will provide her with an immediate income: a Virginia Cosmetology License.
"Not a lot of high school students have a career right after high school," Anderson said. "Since we're getting the experience while we're in high school, we can jump right into the job market."
Anderson is one of 21 cosmetology students at Mountain View High School who are expected to pass their state licensure test this spring. Altogether there are 81 cosmetology students at the school, about half of whom--like Anderson--travel there for instruction from Colonial Forge and North Stafford high schools.
Another 55 students are enrolled in the cosmetology program at Stafford High School, with students traveling there from Brooke Point, making a total of 136 cosmetology students district wide.
"It's really a great opportunity for both their education and employment," said Colleen Nicoll, MVHS cosmetology adviser. "Some will continue with a cosmetology career, others will use it to support themselves through college."
Nicoll said that four years ago, one of her former students earned her license through the program, then used it to pay tuition while studying business at Virginia Commonwealth University.
"When she walked across the stage for her bachelor's degree she was debt free," Nicoll said.
Cosmetology is only a slice of Stafford County Public Schools' career and technical education programs, offering students the opportunity to earn industry-based certifications through national assessments or licensure exams.
Areas of study include agriculture, business and information technology, family and consumer sciences, health and medical sciences, marketing, technology education and trade and industrial education.
What's unique about the Mountain View-based cosmetology program is the Wildcat Salon--a fully equipped beauty parlor at the school named after its mascot. Anyone in the community can take advantage of these services.
"Being able to work in a real salon really gives you a good feel for it," Anderson said. "Doing hair on a mannequin and a real person is totally different."
The state license requires students to complete 850 seat hours, earning 530 competency-based skills.
"They have to do a certain number of haircuts, manicures, pedicures, blow-drys, styles, that kind of thing," Nicoll said.
The salon is open for business on Thursdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., October through April. A haircut is $5--the same amount charged for a pedicure or manicure. For certain color treatments and some permanent waves, the charge ranges from $20 to $50, the highest price on the list. The salon offers 29 services.
"A lot of our customers are family and friends of the kids in the program," Nicoll said. "But we actually do have quite a few regulars from the general community."
Every Friday, students meet with advisers Nicoll and Kim Marietta to discuss how it went the day before.
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"We talk about what went well and what we could have done better," Anderson said. "All of us learn from each other's experience and learn a spectrum of ways to do things."
Anderson said she can't remember any complaints from customers during the time she has been a student in the program.
"We've all been so well prepared by our advisers, we don't have any crazy stories or mishaps," she said. "We work hard to get everything perfect."
On a typical Thursday, the salon brings in between $200 and $400. A few times during the school year they'll extend their hours till 8 p.m.
"When we stay open late we can make up to $1,500 for the day," Nicoll said. "Which is pretty remarkable when you consider most of our services only cost about $5."
Money generated by the salon helps pay for supplies, and makes it possible for second-year cosmetology students to go to an annual hair show. Other supplies are covered by the county.
"The only charge for students to start the cosmetology program is to buy a pair of safety shoes for about $20," Nicoll said.
Earning a Virginia cosmetology license at a professional school can cost up to $20,000.
"That's the value of what they're getting here while they go through high school," Nicoll said. "We're also trying to start a barbering program here, but no one has signed up yet."
Anderson said she started the program completely by accident, because it sounded like something fun to do with her friend. Now, not only will it help her pursue her chosen career in cosmetology, but going through the program has given her friends and confidence in herself.
"I didn't realize how great it would be," she said. "I love the teamwork aspect of it--a lot of us girls have known each other for two years, we're kind of like a sisterhood, we motivate each other and learn from each other."
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