PEORIA, Ill. — Desk rows strewn with backpacks give way to cushioned recliners and cabinets stocked with nail polish in the space that serves as both salon and classroom to a group of high school seniors.
The space is a classroom for 32 juniors and seniors from Peoria School District 150 for most of the week, but on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday afternoons learning is hands-on only when their corner of Woodruff Career and Technical Center transforms into a full service salon.
Senior students offer ser-vices ranging from pedicures and facials to hair coloring and styling, and for one afternoon I was in their hands.
And my hands were in theirs. Shalaria Burse-Taylor, a senior at Peoria High School, did my manicure.
Dressed all in black, Burse-Taylor first greeted me with a professional handshake, followed by nail shaping, a hand rub and two coats of color.
“With the economy nowadays, I think it’s important for us to be able to support ourselves,” instructor Demetra Bolden said.
“It’s very important that if they choose to own their own business they walk out of here with the confidence to do that.”
While they are just 17 and 18 years old — all the stylists are seniors at PHS where the program was piloted — they behave as young professionals. Each is wearing either a black top and pants or a pink T-shirt with the saying “I’m not a magician. I’m a beautician” on the back — a perfect slogan for the sassy bunch.
Between coats of the cherry red polish I chose, Burse-Taylor told me about her plans to go to Illinois Central College before nursing school.
She said she hoped that working in a salon can help her make money while working toward a nursing certificate.
“We always promote going to college,” said Bolden, who often writes letters of recommendation for the cosmetology students.
After Burse-Taylor topped my tips, classmate Tyler Hayes stepped in to add nail art.
“I can do any nail,” she said when I asked for her recommendation.
I challenged Hayes to use my tiny pinky nail as a canvas, and she delivered a delicate blue flower surrounded by swirls of white and silver.
I let the tiny masterpieces dry as I moved into the adjoining hair salon.
I met Shawnterya Carter, who styled my hair amid the regular customers and students rolling nine-section perms into mannequin heads full of hair (sans smelly chemicals).
“I just want you to...” I started, giving her free rein of my mane.
“Work my magic?” the aspiring salon-owner jumped in.
She turned my chair around so during the braiding and curling I could only guess what she was doing based on the oohs and ahs of other students passing by.
By the time she flipped the chair she had converted my straight locks into a waterfall braid that gave way to cascading spiral curls.
The extravagant updo put the limp curls I gave myself before my senior prom to shame. And the services are available at reasonable prices. My entire makeover rang up at about $30 — $11 for a manicure and nail art and $20 for my hair style.
Money from services funds class activities like a recent trip to a hair show. While students are not paid, they accept tips, and hope to keep customers happy and coming back.
“I always tell them that beauty school, cosmetology schools, is the time to build your customers. I still do customers I had in beauty school,” Bolden said.