Sewanhaka cosmetology students find deeper meaning in their work


The Sewanhaka High School Career and Technical Education program, also known as CTE, is preparing students from five district high schools for careers in hair, makeup and nails during a two-year program.

Second-year students recently served as cosmetologists for the fashion show at the Family and Children’s Association’s annual Women in Philanthropy event at The Lannin in Eisenhower Park.

“I feel like I’m helping people bring out their true beauty,” said Gabriella Maggio, a second-year student in the program. “And I feel like I’m helping them be the best they can be. It’s so rewarding because I don’t feel that comfortable doing makeup on other people, because I wouldn’t say it’s a strong suit, but it felt very rewarding to do someone’s makeup and then they left so happy. And I love doing hair, it was so fun. I had a great time.”

Maggio, who wants to open her own salon when she’s out of school, is learning highlighting techniques, hair cutting, makeup, skin, nails and hair styling. She is also learning how to be professional and work with clients

“I love my teachers,” Maggio said. “I think they never doubt you. They’re always telling you that you can do your best. They’ve really inspired me to work hard in this field. They know exactly what they’re doing. They know what they’re talking about. And they’re really just trying to prepare you to be the best you can be.”

She also feels very close to her classmates.

“I feel like I made so many friends here,” Maggio said. “Everyone tries to lift you up. I just think it’s a great experience. I’m really happy I met these girls.”

She said she felt the preparation for this fashion show was more for her confidence rather than her skills.

“I didn’t want to doubt myself,” Maggio said. “I came here knowing that I learned the skills and I should feel comfortable with what I’m doing. And everything will be fine.”

The experience was unforgettable for CTE student, Imanni Torres-Santos

“It’s a wonderful experience,” Torres-Santos said. “It helps me in expanding my experience in cosmetology. I’m just enjoying myself today.”

Also in her second year in the program, Torres-Santos said the main preparations for the event were about making sure they had all their items in order to serve as cosmetologists. Her main focus is hair. She says she doesn’t want to focus on cosmetology as a career, but she wants to keep hair as a side hustle

“We are learning about how to do balayages,” Torres-Santos said. “We do haircuts, bleach hair, dye it, do highlights. We learn different styles and how to make it from a picture just by really knowing what you’re doing.”

Throughout the two-year program, Torres-Santos has grown close to her teachers and the members of the program.

“We all get along well,” Torres-Santos said. “We all have our own bonds with each other. It’s like we’re one big family, in both the classes.”

CTE teacher Maryanne Contarino said there is ample opportunity for the students to practice their techniques in professional settings.

“At the local level, we are doing all the plays for the schools around the district,” Contarino said. “We also will do fashion shows if they’re being hosted at our other home schools as well, because we’re one of five high schools.”

Sewanhaka High School serves as the home school for the program.

“The program really gives the students the opportunity to learn the basics of cosmetology in their first year,” Contarino said. “Then in their second year they get to expand what they have learned onto professional client services that we host every Friday. It gives them an opportunity to raise their level of standards up to industry standards.”

There are students in the program who are apprenticing with local salons.

“This industry is growing and we have students in the industry now that will continue to work, even though they’ve applied to colleges,” Contarino said. “This is going to be their livelihood once they complete their two or four-year programs in college.”

The program is rigorous and thorough as it prepares the students to pass their state board exams, both practical and written.

“We learn everything from natural hair styling to chemical work, hair coloring, dimensional coloring, permanent waving, which is kind of coming back, and all the theory and the science behind it,” Contarino said.

But to Contarino and the rest of the faculty, there is a deeper purpose to this work.

“Right from the beginning we like our seniors especially, to realize that we are a community service industry and that giving back to the community with a handset of skills is the best reward ever,” Contarino said. “So, when they give back to the community, and they see their work out there, it really just gives them self-satisfaction and really helps with their skills sets for industry.”