POISED FOR GROWTH?: A District 209 student works on hair at Erskine Reeves Barber Academy in Hillside in 2016, as part of the barber and cosmetology program. Officials said they may scale up the program in the future. | Photo provided

During a regular meeting on Aug. 6, the Proviso Township High Schools District 209 Board of Education unanimously agreed to continue a cosmetology and barbering program that board members admitted has so far gotten little bang for the buck. 

The program is such an excellent opportunity for the small group of students who stick it out, district officials said, they’re willing to work out some of the kinks so more students can take advantage of the experience. 

The board voted unanimously to renew two-year agreements with Miss Robert’s Beauty Academy, where cosmetology students take courses, and Erskine Reeves Barber Academy, where barber students take courses. Both schools are in Hillside. 

The cosmetology and barbering program was created in 2014, when 20 cosmetology and 10 barber students enrolled. Twenty students — 10 at Proviso East and 10 at Proviso West — have enrolled in the program each year since then.  

Students at East and West are allowed to enroll in the two-year program during their junior year if they meet certain qualifications and secure a recommendation from their counselor. They take core academic courses in the morning before attending the academies in the afternoon. Instruction lasts until 5:30 p.m. 

Tuition, which is $6,200 per student, is fully covered by D209. Students only have to pay for the cosmetic kits that include necessary equipment such as styling brushes, blow dryers, clippers and shears. 

Before a recent change in state law, the students had to earn 2,000 credit hours before they were eligible to sit for a licensure examination, which meant that they’d have to take the exam after graduating high school. 

Among the first cohort of 30 students in 2016, roughly half of the barbering students completed the program while little more than 40 percent of cosmetology students did so, district data shows. 

In 2019, however, 100 percent of cosmetology students and roughly 80 percent of barber students completed the program. The average completion rate of the cosmetology and barber students over four years is 70 percent, with 16 students licensed and 18 preparing to take the licensure exam this summer. Around 40 percent of students who have completed the program over the course of its four-year existence have gone on to acquire licenses. 

Nicole Howard, the district’s assistant superintendent for Academics and Student and Family Services, said during the Aug. 6 meeting that 21 students at East and West are interested in the barber and cosmetology program in the fall. 

But 21 students in a district of more than 4,000 is a drop in the bucket. Add in the costs — paying $6,200 a piece for 21 students amounts to around $130,000 — and the low licensure rate, and some board members were openly questing the wisdom of the investment.

Howard said district officials conducted site visits and spoke with students, customers, staff and other stakeholders before concluding that the program has value. 

 “The students received more than just training to become cosmetologists and barbers,” Howard said. “They also got training in entrepreneurship, building self-esteem, a sense of purpose [and] learning how to deal with customers.” 

“I think it’s a great opportunity,” said board member Claudia Medina. “I just think that it’s such a small amount of students being impacted and a lot of funds being allocated.” 

“I think it’s an excellent program for the kids who go through it,” said board member Della Patterson. “But if we have 4,000 kids and only 21 are in the program [I don’t think that’s very equitable].” 

D209 Supt. Jesse Rodriguez said the district has no plans to eliminate the program; instead, the district will work to scale the program up so more students can take advantage of it. In the future, officials said, they might try locating the schools on-site in an effort to contain costs and bring the program in closer alignment with other vocational training. 

Howard added that a recent change in state law that only requires 1,500 credit hours before aspiring barbers and cosmetologists can sit for their licensure exams should increase the program’s licensure rate, since that means students will still be in high school, and within a supportive environment, by the time they’re eligible to test. 

Going forward, Howard said, the district will limit participation in the program only to students who are the most motivated to finish it and pursue careers in barbering and cosmetology. Previously, the district had established a minimum of 20 students per cohort. 

“This allows us to save money on students [who in the past] we pushed and motivated because we wanted to fill seats,” Howard said. 

CONTACT: michael@forestparkreview.com