On Tuesday, teacher Christina Pompei and the 18 students in the inaugural class of the Warwick Area Career and Technical Center’s (WACTC) Cosmetology program welcomed school administrators and maintenance workers to an open house for their new salon as a thank you for their work and support getting the program off the ground.
During the open house, special guests watched the young ladies practice their skills with make-up, hair and nails as they prepared for their SkillsUSA competition, which takes place tomorrow in Providence. After only six months in the program, Pompei already has students ready for each area of competition.
While the girls’ work, especially the students’ designs for “Avatar”-inspired fantasy make-up, was impressive, the main showcase of the day was the fully-functioning salon put together by the district’s maintenance crew.
“I can’t say enough. I’m beyond excited. The girls are excited to come in and work every day,” said Pompei.
This journey began last year when a survey went around area high schools asking what career and tech program students were interested in. The overwhelming response was cosmetology.
Career Center director William McCaffrey admits he was shocked the administration was ready to get the program started immediately, but happily obliged. The district secured Pompei, a former teacher for Chariho’s program, to head the program and had a full class right away.
The one thing the Career Center didn’t have was a salon. For the first half of the school year, Pompei and her students worked in an empty computer lab, learning the basics of manicures, pedicures, facials, make-up, hair and more. The girls remember having to cover all of the equipment on a regular basis so make-up, hairspray and more would not get everywhere.
McCaffrey explained it took a little longer than expected to get all of the equipment such as salon sinks, mirrors, vanities, and more, but is very pleased with the results.
“It’s been great. We went from an empty classroom, a computer lab that was not designed for cosmetology, to this,” said McCaffrey. “This is real world.”
The salon, which also features a small classroom area in an adjacent room, was officially completed in January.
“Our maintenance people here went above and beyond what we imagined,” said Superintendent Richard D’Agostino.
Seeing the students using the space was a nice sight for workers who stopped by.
“It was just an empty, dirty room [when we started],” said John Zawadzki, who completed a lot of the plumbing in the space. “I think it’s nice.”
“It’s definitely nice to see. It was something that was needed, and it will be good for the kids,” said Russ Goodman, who completed painting and other work.
Even though they didn’t have a salon, Pompei and her students dove right in to their studies. She had a number of students taking part in the Providence Hair Show in October.
“Despite all the odds, the computer room, they’ve probably learned 90 percent of the procedures they are going to learn in their first year,” said Pompei.
Director of Secondary Education Dennis Mullen noticed how dedicated the students are.
“This is phenomenal. It’s great that kids can pursue their passion,” said Mullen. “Congrats to Mr. McCaffrey for pushing it and Ms. Pompei for leading it.”
“You can see it. Look at these young ladies. The teacher doesn’t even have to say anything; they want to learn,” he said. “They work hard at their academics, and they’re going to graduate high school.”
Mullen and D’Agostino were also happy to offer this program within the district; in previous years, six or seven students would travel to other districts for cosmetology programs, costing the district around $60,000.
“We need to keep the resources here,” said D’Agostino.
And the program remains popular. Next year, the program will have 18 students in Level Two, and another full class of 18 for Level One.
If one wants proof of the program’s success, watch the girls as they give each other manicures, try different make-up techniques or practice their hairstyling skills. They are not only constantly moving, but it is obvious they enjoy it.
“It’s interesting. There’s always something going on,” said Megan Massey, adding that they really do feel like a big family.
“We all have something to bring to the table,” said Katie Morrison.
Looking forward, Pompei plans to have her students continue to compete and show off their skills, but she will also be bringing professionals from the field, including former students from Chariho’s program, into the classroom. She and her students will also attend a Salon Centric-sponsored student education day in May.
Students are gaining valuable experience in the salon setting, and Pompei said her goal before the end of the year is to have salon hours for members of the community to come for different services, including manicures, pedicures, facials, and possibly hair styling; no hair cuts or coloring yet.
Students in the program will graduate with both their high school diploma and Rhode Island Department of Health (DOH) Cosmetology License, as long as they have passed the written and practical exams from DOH, achieved 1,500 training hours, and are 18 years old. If a student is not 18 when they graduate, the DOH will hold their license until their 18th birthday.