By Kim Hilsenbeck
Teaching high school students is a whole new ball of wax for Katharina Perez. A former beauty school instructor, Perez is now the cosmetology teacher at Lehman High School.
This San Antonio native, who still lives and operates a salon there, brought her practical experience as a stylist along with her experience as an instructor to the 37 students — all girls for now — in the Lehman program.
“It’s very different from teaching students in beauty school to teaching here,” she said during a recent visit to her classroom and salon.
As an instructor at a beauty school, she said students who didn’t make the grade were cut from the program.
With high school students, Perez said things are different.
“You have to make accommodations for them,” she said. “And I’ve never had to deal with parents before.”
Yet Perez seems excited about the job.
Hand-picked by Hays CISD CTI Leader Suzi Mitchell, who stopped by during the interview, Perez has been going full speed ahead since Mitchell recruited her last summer.
“This girl never stops,” Mitchell said of Perez.
The 28-year-old teacher still runs Hair by Elaine, her San Antonio salon, and teaches full-time at Lehman. She is also taking online classes to complete her teacher certification.
“I’m so tired,” she joked.
It seems like she’s been going non-stop since Hays CISD voters passed a $59.1 million bond last May. Funds from that bond helped launch the revamped and expanded cosmetology program. In the past, only two students at a time could take the course. Now, Perez has 37 students.
“Went and picked out furniture, we were trying to get inspected and licensed,” Perez said about working with Mitchell and with Hays High teacher Lisa Mitchell, the Hays High cosmetology teacher. “We did everything.”
Perez said this first year of the program had its ups and downs. A few students left the program once they figured out she was a real teacher with real expectations.
She teaches them about the importance of customer service, such as greeting a customer, conducting a consultation and walking them to the door.
“Some of the students thought it was too much work,” she said.
Perez said some students thought cosmetology might be what teachers call a ‘blow off’ course.
“They thought we were going to play with makeup and do each other’s hair,” Perez said. “I don’t think kids had any idea what they were signing up for.”
But this course is far from a blow off.
“I’m pretty strict,” she said. “You have to be to run a good program. But I tell them, ‘I care about you.’ That’s why I’m always on them.”
The students invest $300 each year of the two-year program and put in 1,000 hours. However, the way the program works is if they fail any other subject, they don’t get credit for the 1,000 hours.
If they graduate and go on to get their state license, Hays CISD will refund half of their $600 fee. They also get to keep their cosmetology kit provided by the district.
However, Perez said students who drop out of the program or do not get their license cannot get any money back.
“It’s non-refundable,” she said. “But the students are told that up front.”
She thinks 16 of her current students are fully committed, meaning she expects they will complete the course and get their state cosmetology license.
Mitchell said next fall, the program is adding a one-hour intro to cosmetology for sophomores to give them a chance to explore the program without making the time commitment or financial investment right away.
“They can see the expectation for the class and get a feel for it,” Mitchell said.
Perez said students are graded on both theory, which involves a textbook and tests, and practical skills, which is performing the services they learned.
“I grade based on how well they actually got the service, not on whether they completed it or not,” she said,
First year students in Perez’s program generally aren’t graded on how fast they complete the practical work, such as micro braids or pedicures.
“Right now I’m not grading on how fast they perform, but next year time will be a factor,” she said.
But that’s because second year cosmetology students need to be prepared to take the state licensing test.
“To get their license, they have to answer 100 questions in an hour, and there are no accommodations made,” Perez said. “There’s no talking, they can’t look at anyone, they don’t get any bathroom breaks.”
She added that the practical test is also timed — they have about three and a half hours to do a haircut, a perm, a manicure on one hand and a few other services.
But Perez said it makes sense to grade students on how long it takes to answer the test questions and perform the practical skills.
“In the business, time is money,” she said.
What is Perez’s hope for the program in the future?
“I want to see it all out,” she said. “I’m looking forward to next year. I’m excited to see who graduates and gets their license.”
“I do time them on certain things,” Perez said.
“I care about you. That’s why I’m always on them. In a way you’re like my babies. I’m pretty strict – you have to be to run a good program.”