Plano ISD cosmetology program offers students a glimpse of a changing industry
A cosmetology partnership program with Plano ISD and hairdressing company Toni & Guy means a new generation of hairdressers and stylists is growing in North Texas — but the future of their industry is ever-changing.
In a large, white-tiled studio space sectioned with glass walls in a Plano strip mall, a group of high school students sit at a January open house, deciding whether they want to study styling and hairdressing for the next two years.
They’re aspiring cosmetologists, learning about a first-of-its-kind program sponsored by Toni & Guy, in one of the British beauty dynasty’s few hairdressing academy locations in Texas.
The partnership program with Plano Independent School District begins later this year. Accepted students will graduate from any of Plano’s three senior high schools as fully licensed cosmetologists.
Vines High School sophomore Shakira Chukes said she's already applied for the next academic year.
“I was actually looking for programs that would help me go into cosmetology,” she said. “And then I found out that Toni & Guy was doing something, so I wanted to do it because I heard they're really good.”
Those students who are accepted into the trade program will hope to join a Texas workforce of more than 30,000 people: Texas employed the most hairdressers, hairstylists and cosmetologists of any state in 2020.
But of the states with the largest cosmetology workforces, Texans earned the least, making just over $26,000 on average.
Still, young people are interested. With beginner resources like YouTube and TikTok, cosmetologists with passion and savvy can build up foundational skills before even stepping foot in a school. That’s what Maleea Halbert did.
“I've always been the type of friend that, like, wherever we're going, someone wants me to curl their hair or braid it or do something to style it,” she said.
Halbert studied music in college for three years, but left school during the pandemic and decided to pursue cosmetology full time.
Now she’s part of the academy, and at the open house, she answered questions from students like Shakira who are hoping to be in her place someday.
“I envy their position a little bit because I'm like, I wish I had this opportunity when I was in high school to be able to, right out the gate, jump into a career that you can be really successful in," Halbert said.
Some see benefits in Texas trade programs
Trade programs, more formally known as career and technical education, have become more popular in Plano ISD schools over the past decade. District data shows 26,247 students in grades 7-12 have enrolled in CTE programs in the 2022-23 school year, compared to 18,516 in the 2013-14 school year.
Across the state, CTE enrollment is also much higher in high schools than in post-secondary programs. There were nearly 2 million high school students participating in CTE programs in Texas in the 2020-2021 school year, compared to about 100,000 post-secondary participants.
Sara Plozay, a cosmetology instructor from Ohio, attributes the popularity of trade school programs to the hands-on experiences that captivate students’ interests.
“They’ll focus on body systems as it pertains to the cosmetology world,” Plozay said. “If they’re learning about chemistry, it’s, you know, ‘How do these colors mix together? What happens? How does that get the hair to do what it needs to do?’ So, it’s very applicable to what they came in there for.”
Such programs can also teach practical life skills, like resume building and salon ownership, that Plozay says can help graduates start their own businesses.
For those who don’t pursue higher education, Plano ISD’s Career and Technical Education Coordinator Alex Ritter said graduating from a trade school program already prepares them with the skills they need.
“For students who maybe don't see themselves as a college-ready student, that's a great opportunity for them to be ready to go out into industry and be really a productive worker in our community quickly,” Ritter said.
How Texas lawmakers changed cosmetology
Other, more seasoned educators say they’re watching the industry change rapidly because of the do-it-yourself nature of internet cosmetology — for better or worse.
And they say Texas is helping to push that change.
In 2021, lawmakers passed House Bill 1560, which allows anyone with a cosmetology or barbering license to teach. Before that, people needed a separate instructor’s license to teach the trade.
“We want it to be harder, not easier,” instructor Shanna Wood-Casey said of her and some of her colleagues. “We want stylists to come out of these programs even more prepared, not less prepared.”
Wood-Casey got her start in cosmetology during high school in Killeen, where she teaches now. Agencies at the state level don’t have a clear understanding of what it takes to practice or teach in the industry, she said.
With the 2021 law, the state opted to focus less on administration and more on sanitation and safety. But that comes at the expense of stricter educational standards, Wood-Casey said.
And while school partnership programs with companies like Toni & Guy can be beneficial to budding cosmetologists, she says those companies also benefit from fewer regulations by providing them with a larger potential workforce.
“I wish that more lawmakers would come in to a cosmetology school and see what we teach,” Wood-Casey said. “I wish they would look at our curriculum and see what's required of our students.”
An industry in flux
LaMisha Stinson was one of Wood-Casey’s teachers and still works at Killeen ISD today. She said teaching for 27 years has shown her that self-instruction through websites like YouTube yields a lot of trial and error.
That means more experienced stylists have to correct rookie mistakes that can sometimes be a threat to a client’s safety, like potential chemical burns and fungal infections.
“That can get a little scary sometimes,” Stinson said. “With the change of technology, the world, people, it is overwhelming.”
Linwood Darkis has a foot in both worlds. Like Wood-Casey, he learned cosmetology with Stinson, then went on to practice behind the chair and is now an educator.
With more than 20 years of industry experience under his belt, Darkis also shares professional tips on his social media pages.
“I will say, as a stylist, if you don't understand social media, how to be relevant on social media and to present value to a potential customer, it is really hard to be relevant in this industry at present,” Darkis said.
It’s a delicate balance: On one hand, promoting one’s styling services on social media can immediately introduce a self-taught stylist to a large clientele. Still, he said he worries for the state of the industry as deregulation for cosmetologists and cosmetology teachers becomes the norm.
“Can I teach you how to do this style? Yes,” Darkis said. “Can I teach you how to do it safely with a more holistic approach, understanding the benefits, the drawbacks, and the impact on your client, as well as how to be successful in this industry? That's a whole different question.”
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