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Cutting edge careers

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Students learn in classroom and salon at Gadsden Technical Institute

By Cheri Harris

The barbering and cosmetology program at Gadsden Technical Institute in Quincy is all about classroom learning — and practice, practice, practice.

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For the students who successfully complete the 1,200-hour course, all that hard work could lead to an exciting and rewarding career.

As she worked at sewing extensions into 29-year-old Shayla James’ braided hair, Subrina Thomas, 26, of Quincy, said she has known since sixth grade she one day wanted to own her own hair salon. Though her work background is mostly in daycare, she has done hair as a hobby for years.

“I’ve been doing it for a minute,” she said. “I just now decided to get my license, though.”

She started at GTI in October 2011 and is on track to graduate in December.

“I’m excited,” she said.

Don Gibson, who is in his 10th year as the program’s instructor, said program requirements to complete the course include doing 300 hair styles, 100 permanent waves and straightenings, 50 hair colorings and 100 shampoos and rinses.
“Everything they’re doing now,” he said, “we record it.”

First students learn the techniques in a classroom setting, and they have many uncomplaining mannequin heads to practice on. But then, after Gibson tests their skills, he said they go to the salon floor to put into practice what they have learned.

Ellen Dorsey asked for Gibson’s help in finishing up her young client’s haircut. She said she wanted to watch him because she had shaved a man’s head before, but she had never edged.

She and her husband, Calvin, 34, started the program about three weeks ago, shortly after moving here from Pinellas County.

Calvin said he had worked in lawn care, but he wanted to get his GED and learn a trade.

“I always wanted to work in a barber shop,” he said.

Though he has cut hair in his free time on the side, he said, “I’ve wanted to learn the correct way to do it.”
Public hours for the salon are 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Gibson said most of the public customers come in for cuts, shampoos and sets. They will take appointments at the salon, Gibson said, because that is part of learning the trade – along with customer service, properly greeting clients and the art of communication and “reflective listening,” so the stylist can be sure the customer is getting the service expected.

In February, Gibson said some of his students will make the pilgrimage to the Premiere Show in Atlanta. The trade show offers students the chance to see hair styling elevated to performance, with stylists literally in the spotlight.
Gibson said attending the show can ignite a student’s passion, perhaps even inspiring them to be in a show one day.

“I’ve been a platform artist myself,” Gibson said. “

Gibson said his former students work at nearly every salon or barber shop in Quincy, as well as other areas including Tallahassee and Orlando, and some own their own businesses.

“That’s been the joy for me,” he said.

GTI’s barbering/cosmetology program is geared to high-school, GED and adult students. Gibson said high school and GED students stay for half the day and adult students stay from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Classes start in August, and Gibson said new students start the program every nine weeks. Two students are on track to finish the program in December, including James Youmas of Havana.

Youmas said his goal is to open his own shop. The career appeals to the Vietnam veteran because his father and brother were barbers.

“I guess I always wanted to do it,” he said.