Roosevelt High School principal Matthew Swinson says he plans to let his hair grow over the next few weeks for a purpose: He would like one of the 15 students signed up for the school’s new barber apprenticeship training program to give him a trim, and maybe even a shave.
“I want to be a good subject for them,” he says. “We’re really excited about this opportunity.”
The barber program will take place in a mock barbershop in a classroom with three professional barber’s chairs, posters detailing the different areas of the head, face and neck, and a red-white-and-blue spinning barber’s pole. The room was dedicated with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Nov. 29, attended by school administrators, students and parents, with entertainment by the school band, orchestra, choir and cheerleaders. The free program will run after school from 3 to 6 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays during the entire school year.
“Some people think it’s just about the clippers and the trimmers. It’s more than that,” says Kyheem Wallace, 18, a Roosevelt senior in the program. “I know it will be a good career or side hustle for me. Everybody needs their hair cut.” Jokes Atinauj Moore, 16, a junior, “I don’t know if I’m going to mess up and they would have like, a bald spot.”
ROOSEVELT JOINS OTHER SCHOOLS
Moore needn’t worry about that — Christopher Felder, co-owner of the Barber & Beauty Institute of New York in Hempstead, has developed the curriculum to teach students in partnership with the high school and will oversee the classroom teachers. Roosevelt joins other Long Island schools that have programs inside their school buildings; Uniondale High School, for instance, launched a barber program in the high school in conjunction with Nassau BOCES last year. Baldwin High School also has a program in partnership with Nassau BOCES, and William Floyd High School has its own in-school program.
“Most schools don’t do a great job around the trades and the hands-on opportunities,” says Monique Darrisaw-Akil, superintendent of the Uniondale School District, whose two-year program takes place during the school day. “If you’re lucky, you get to take electives that turn your fire on.” Taking classes during the high school years teaches students the concrete steps they need to become a licensed barber instead of them having to figure out themselves how to meet apprenticeship and other requirements after graduation, Akil says.
“It is part of a process of building our college and career trajectory,” says Deborah Wortham, superintendent of schools for the Roosevelt School District. She says she hopes students will do more than just learn the barbering skills — she wants them to learn the business of barbering. “If you intend to be a barber, why not own the salon?” she says.
FROM BASICS TO ARTISTRY
The program was the vision of Dionne Wynn, the district’s director of pupil personnel services, who foresaw the opportunity to work with Felder’s private barbering school. “I kept asking and asking until I wore him down,” she jokes of her interactions with Felder. Having the program inside the school makes it easier for students to attend; they don’t have to be transported to another location, she says.
Students in the course will receive a uniform and their own introductory barber kit with supplies. “One of the first things they’re going to learn is how to drape,” Felder says during a recent demonstration at the school. Students practiced greeting the customer, seating them in the barber chair, approaching from the side to respect the customer’s personal space and draping with an apron them from the side instead of tossing a drape over the customer’s head from behind them. They learned how to place a disposable strip barrier between the patient’s neck and the drape for sanitary reasons, and how to properly raise and lower the barber chair. “It looks easy, but it’s kind of tricky if you’ve never done it before,” Felder says.
Leslie Perez, 16, a junior, says her whole family is in the cosmetology business and that her mother was 100% behind Perez signing on for the course. “You don’t see female barbers every day,” Perez says. “I’m willing to commit because I’m really interested in it.”
Perez’s mother, Elizabeth, says in Spanish that she’s happy to see how excited Perez is. “I feel really good because I also am a hair stylist,” she says, though she works cutting women’s hair, not men’s.
Later in the course, students will practice hair cutting techniques on mannequins before advancing to people as models. That’s when principal Swinson will confidently take a seat in a chair. “A barber shop is essentially an artist’s studio,” Swinson says. “It’s going to be place where mastering the art of hair cutting takes place.”