The Warwick Area Career and Technical Center has started a new cosmetology program this year, welcoming a full first class last week.
The process to bring the new program to the school began in February, when a survey was sent to area high school students during their advisory period, asking what programs they would be interested in. Out of the 325 students who returned their survey, 131 selected cosmetology.
“The interest was very high,” said Bill McCaffrey, Career Center director. McCaffrey worked quickly to make the program a possibility for this fall. He said the School Department and School Committee were supportive of the plan, and the necessary $170,000 to start the program was funded through a Carl Perkins Grant, the federal grant for career and technical education. The grant request was reviewed by RIDE and received on Aug. 1. The grant allows for 18 workstations, so 18 students will be able to enroll in the program each year for now.
“I definitely could see something starting here and becoming much bigger,” said McCaffrey, stating that Chariho High School’s program started with 18 and grew to 36.
As of last Wednesday morning, there were 11 students signed up for the first year of the program. By the next day, through word of mouth, seven more students had transferred into the program, bringing it up to 18.
“I feel bad because we had to turn some students away,” said Christina Pompei, the newly hired cosmetology teacher.
A native of Warwick who graduated from Warwick Veterans Memorial High School, Pompei attended cosmetology school in the late ’90s and work at the JCPenny Salon in Warwick Mall for 12 years, becoming a master stylist with the company. She said she got her first taste of teaching by attending technique classes for her job at the salon.
“I would come back to the salon and teach whatever I had just learned to the other stylists,” said Pompei.
She eventually attended the Paul Mitchell School to receive her instructor’s license. Although she is still working to complete her bachelor’s degree, she was a teacher for Chariho’s cosmetology program for three years. When she was approached about the opportunity to start up a program in Warwick, she couldn’t say no.
“This is something I felt I could be a part of,” said Pompei, adding that she never imagined she would have the opportunity to teach in the town where she grew up. In addition to teaching her students the techniques for hair styling, manicures, pedicures, make-up application and facials, Pompei will also be touching upon the business side of owning and operating a salon.
“There is a business end of it that’s important,” said McCaffrey.
Pompei explained that this year’s students are Level One students, and they will be in the program for three years. At the end of the three years, as long as the student has had 1,500 hours of training, Pompei said they will take a field trip to the Department of Health to take the written exam required for the Rhode Island cosmetology license, and they will complete the practical exam at the soon-to-be completed salon facility at the Career Center.
“They will graduate with their diploma and their certification,” said Pompei, which means they will be able to work in a salon right after they graduate.
Pompei said Level One students will learn “the basics of just about everything,” including manicures, pedicures, facials, perms, cutting, coloring, safety, sanitation, anatomy, physiology and state health regulations. Level Two and Level Three will dive more into the specifics.
“They learn pretty much all of the hands-on aspects,” said Pompei.
Pompei says she is excited to be working in Warwick and helping students start their careers, and her students are equally as excited.
Megan Massey and Courtney McCafferty were in their advisory period together last May when they got an email saying the cosmetology program was coming to the Career Center.
“It is something I always wished they had,” said Massey.
Both girls said hair and make-up had always been of interest to them, but they were both looking into the child and elderly care program that is offered at Pilgrim High School until they learned about the new program.
“I was actually going to transfer schools,” said Carina Goncalves, a junior who transferred out of Pilgrim’s children and elderly program.
She said she wanted to participate in a cosmetology program last year and was excited when she had the opportunity to transfer. As a junior, Goncalves says she will not complete all of the 1,500 hours required to get her certificate before graduation.
“I’m probably going to get 1,200 hours,” she said, adding that she will move on to another school to complete her certification.
All three girls are not only excited to get into the salon and start working with each other and clients, they are excited about the bond they are sure the 18 girls will share as they move through the program.
“We’re obviously going to get closer together,” said Goncalves. “We’ll do each other’s hair for different things.”
“We’ll become a family,” said McCafferty.
“I want you to leave here as a great cosmetologist or a great hairdresser who knows what they’re doing and has confidence in what they’re doing,” said Pompei to her students on their second day of class.
McCaffrey hopes the new program will bring more students to the Career Center.
“Previously, we had to send them out of district for cosmetology,” said McCaffrey. “Now students from out of district will pay for coming here.”
The program is funded for four years to cover salary, supplies and equipment. McCaffrey says the goal is to have a mix of in-district and out-of-district students as well as donations from a functioning salon to cover the majority of the program and require minimal funding from the districts.
McCaffrey estimated that it costs the School Department roughly $25,000 to send a Warwick student to another career and technical school for specific programs, depending on if the student has to be at that school all day and if they have an IEP or not.
“If we’re not sending those kids out, we are saving that money,” he said.
Last year Tony Ferrucci, the Warwick Schools Budget Officer, said tuition to attend the Career Center for out-of-district students was $14,700. He is bringing a new tuition proposal before the School Committee at their Sept. 10 meeting, but he is only proposing an increase between one and one and a half percent.
For now, all cosmetology classes are being taught in an open computer lab, with Pompei covering basic information that does not require hands-on practice and the basics of manicures and pedicures, which can be done at current classroom tables. McCaffrey says as long as the delivery of equipment remains on track, the new salon space should be completed with 18 workspaces by mid-October. Workstations, manicure tables, pedicure thrones and more are in the process of being ordered.
“Once we are up and running, we will have the ability to bring in customers,” said Pompei, although for her Level One students customers will not be invited in until the end of the school year, when they are more comfortable. In the beginning, they will work on each other.
“They can and are allowed to work on each other; it kind of helps them break the ice,” said Pompei.
McCaffrey said any money generated by a Career Center salon would need to go directly back into the program for supplies. “We aren’t in the business. We’re not competing,” said McCaffrey.
For more information about the Warwick Area Career and Technical Center’s Cosmetology Program or its other 14 programs, contact the Center at 734-3150.