COVENTRY — Kylie Gallo stood last Thursday at a styling chair, gently combing the freshly-washed hair of a very special client.
“I’ve been trying to be nice to her all week so she doesn’t give me a bad haircut,” her mom Rachel Denton said with a laugh.
The plan was for Gallo to do a wash, trim and blowout. And despite her mom’s jokes, the Coventry High School junior was worry-free as she got to work.
“I’m pretty confident in my haircuts,” she said, a black denim jacket worn casually over her apron.
As a student in the cosmetology and barber technician program at Coventry Career and Technical Center, Gallo has plenty of experience cutting, dyeing and styling the mannequins in the school’s full-service salon. She’s also practiced here and there on her classmates’ hair.
Just before her salon visit, Denton was also treated to a meal in the Knotty Oak Room, a full-service restaurant located in the high school and operated by the school’s culinary arts program.
Denton wasn’t the only parent getting special treatment Thursday, however.
“We’re really trying to showcase the school and the career center programs, and to share with parents some of the stuff that we do,” Principal Brooke Macomber said, sitting in the Knotty Oak Room as parents sipped coffee and enjoyed grilled chicken salads and cheeseburgers and turkey wraps.
Some 30 parents turned out for the school’s first ever “Pampering our Parents” event. Parents were split into two groups. While one group enjoyed lunch prepared by culinary arts students, parents in the other group received complimentary salon and automotive services by students in those programs.
“What’s nice is having the parents be able to enjoy it, to know what it’s all about and to get a service that our students are practicing,” Lori Ferguson, director of the career and tech center, said of the event.
Coventry’s Career and Technical Center programming ranges from advanced welding to sports medicine, with a number of programs that actually cater to outside clientele. In addition to highlighting for parents some of those programs, Macomber said, Thursday’s event also allowed students to further hone some of the skills they’ve been developing.
Communication skills, for example, are strengthened by working with clients from outside the school environment, she said.
“To work on people from the outside adds a different layer to it,” she continued.
Joanne Gorman, who’s led Coventry’s cosmetology program since it opened in 2008, has worked hard over the years to grow its services. And on Thursday, as she observed her students while they interacted with their clients, she was thrilled to have the parents there to witness the impressive work that takes place daily.
The salon was bustling, as students donning black aprons shampooed hair and applied paraffin wax to nails.
“What happens is the parents know what we offer, they actually get to see what students learn hands-on,” she said. “This isn’t just your average English class — this is a career that they’re learning.”
There are currently nearly 80 students in grades nine through 12 enrolled in the program. Though not everyone will pursue careers in the field of cosmetology, Ferguson estimated that around half of them will.
And for those who do ultimately take what they’ve learned in the program beyond the walls of Coventry High School, Gorman said the program offers “a huge head start in life.”
“When they leave here, they are ready to go out and work,” Ferguson said. “They can become licensed right away.”
Students in the cosmetology and barber technician program can also avoid hefty cosmetology school tuition fees — Ferguson said each student could save up to $38,000 dollars. Plus, Gorman added, students can start young to build up clientele.
“They do all this now, and that way by the time they graduate they’ve got all these years under their belts,” Gorman said. “It really does help.”
For Gallo, the plan is to eventually open her own business doing what she loves.
“I’ve always had an interest in hair and cosmetology,” she said. “I wanted to take advantage of this program so I can get my cosmetology license senior year.”
As Gallo was preparing to style her mom’s hair, Ann Marie Moore and Michelle Morris were just sitting down for lunch after having their own salon treatments done.
“It’s really comforting to know that the children are getting the resources they need to get the careers that they want,” Moore said, showing off her freshly coated nails.
Moore, whose son is a ninth grader in the school’s computer IT and game design program, said she’d been eager for the opportunity to check out the salon. She also rarely treats herself, she said, and thought the “Pampering our Parents” event would be the perfect opportunity for some me time.
Sitting across from Moore, Morris had also gotten a nail treatment. And while she was relaxing in the salon, her car was getting its fluids checked in the school’s full-service auto shop.
Morris has a daughter who’s a senior in the cosmetology program and a son who’s a sophomore in the automotive program. She lauded the career and tech programs for the hands-on experience that they afford.
“It’s good for them,” Morris said. “They really do learn so much.”