Kelsey Frey: The Apprentice

Written by David Green.


In most cases, a high schooler who spends half the day paying attention to hair and fingernails probably isn’t learning the skills it takes to get a good job after graduation.

An exception is Morenci junior Kelsey Frey. For her, academic success depends precisely on the amount of attention she pays to hair and nails.

kelsey-curl Kelsey is part of the L.I.S.D Vo-Tech Center’s Less-Than-Class-Size apprenticeship program, which makes school and work one and the same. The hair and nails in question are those of her customers at Janie’s His and Her Hairstyling on Main Street, where Kelsey works weekdays after a half day of normal classes.

What’s that you say? Only a half day of normal school? Most students Kelsey’s age would jump at the opportunity to leave school just before lunch, but the tradeoff for participants in the Less than Class Size program isn’t as sweet as it initially seems. They may be dropping three daily hours of normal class time, but when it comes down to it, they’re actually picking up extra hours of work, says Joanne Baty, coordinator of work-based learning at Vo-Tech.

“They have to be highly motivated, they have to know what they want, and they have to have their high school classes in order,” says Mrs. Baty. “It’s not for all students.”

In addition to Monday night cosmetology classes, the program requires Kelsey to be at her apprenticeship for 20 hours a week, which means she’s adopting at least one more hour of instructional time a day compared to the regular school regimen. In a lot of ways, these 20 hours can be more stressful than normal classes.

“My biggest fear is messing up,” says Kelsey.

There are a lot of ways to do that in the cosmetology industry. By the end of the two-year program, apprentices are expected to be able to pass the state board cosmetology exam, which requires them to be adept at tasks such as manicures, pedicures, permanents, facials, and, of course, cutting, coloring and styling hair. There is also a less tangible aspect of the job that needs to be learned, and which cosmetology classes can’t teach.

“You have to be a people person in this business,” says Janie Holstein, Kelsey’s mentor and the owner of Janie’s His and Her Hairstyling. “You have to be able to communicate with customers, to know what they want.”

Exposure to real-life clientele is just one of the advantages the Less-Than-Class-Size program offers. Another is the privilege of working alongside several industry veterans.

“You’re going to learn more here with five stylists who know what they’re doing as opposed to cosmetology school where nobody knows what they’re doing except the teacher,” says Janie.

The apprenticeship also compares positively to cosmetology school when cost is considered. Mrs. Baty says tuition at a good beauty school could cost upwards of $10,000.

Though the Less-Than-Class-Size program is free, it’s not without a price tag, as Mrs. Baty, explains.

“The students don’t have set schedules, so they may be at their apprenticeships through the afternoon and into the early evening. This doesn’t leave much time at all in which to take a part-time job.”

Mrs. Baty said that some students adjust to the new schedule better than others.

“Sometimes, students find that they need a more structured school. Sometimes the job turns out not to be what they thought. This is a good way to find out,” says Mrs. Baty.

Kelsey, in her fourth month at the apprenticeship, says she’s not had much trouble attuning herself to the new program. In fact, she enjoys spending time away from the normal school environment.

“I like it because I get to hang out with older people. I don’t like the high school drama,” she says.

The apprenticeship may help Kelsey avoid the drama, but she can’t avoid the core, required classes. Morenci graduate Tiffany Davis says one of the hardest parts of the apprenticeship was finding time to do classwork. Davis recently completed the cosmetology apprenticeship program, during which she worked at Giovanni A’Balatti in Adrian. She looks back on it as a positive experience.

“When I first started, it was very overwhelming, just trying to take everything in. I had to think to myself ‘just take it day by day,’” she says. “The fact that I got to work with a lot experienced stylists probably helped me through it most.”

Tiffany is currently studying for the state board examination, which she’s confident she’ll pass. Afterward, she plans to remain at Giovanni A’Balatti to build her client base. Mrs. Baty says not all students enter the workforce after completing their apprenticeships.

“We’ve had students who have completed the internships go on to attend four-year colleges,” says Mrs. Baty. “Some students are interested in starting their own businesses. This is a good way to gain knowledge about that.”

Vo-Tech has also sponsored apprenticeships in fingernail technology, meat cutting and electrical work. Mrs. Baty says there’s no set list of apprenticeships because Vo-Tech is open to new ideas. She says there have been years when as many as six apprentices were in the Less-Than-Class-Size program.

However, Mrs. Baty says Vo-Tech will no longer accept applications for cosmetology apprenticeships due to the difficulty of finding beauty shops willing to accept apprentices.

“It’s a long and expensive program to operate. It’s a lot of work for the mentor at the site and it takes away from their business,” says Mrs. Baty.

Kelsey Frey is a witness to just how much work it is, but she says it’s worth it. Few things are more satisfying than a job well done, and she knows a job well done when she sees one.

“If the customers are happy and they feel good when they leave, you know you’ve done a good job,” she says.

   - Dec. 7, 2005


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