Let’s talk about hair and makeup

Bellmore-Merrick’s student salon is upgraded to state-of-the-art


The Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District’s cosmetology program, housed at Sanford H. Calhoun High School in Merrick, recently got some upgrades. Over the summer, the suite its students use to learn everything beauty related was completely redone, and last month the district celebrated the grand opening of its new, state-of-the-art salon.

The salon, dubbed Salon Belle Mer, received a number of updates, including new, porcelain shampoo stations, 20 salon work stations with LED lighting, and ventilated manicure tables.

Mark Melkonian, the assistant principal at Calhoun and the cosmetology program director, said the salon space was closed over the summer, and renovated in time for the start of the school year. The revitalization process took about four years of planning, he added, so the district could recruit more students for the program and ensure that the renovations would be worthwhile.

Funding was approved by the Central District Board of Education. “It was a community-driven project and a community-run program,” Melkonian said, “and it benefits everyone.”

Though it operates at Calhoun, the program welcomes students from Bellmore-Merrick’s other high schools, Wellington C. Mepham and John F. Kennedy. Students apply for it about halfway through their sophomore year, and take part in it as juniors and seniors. They spend three periods of every school day in the salon — and if they are Mepham or Kennedy students, they are bused to and from Calhoun.

The program is immersive in many ways, Melkonian said. It not only prepares students to take the state cosmetology licensing exam, but also offers them connections to businesses in the area, and teaches them the ins and outs of operating or owning a salon.

“Really, the beauty industry is just booming and growing, and there are so many opportunities for young people,” he said. “Our students are also taking business courses and learning fundamentals in marketing and finance, and learning how to be entrepreneurs.”

Esther DiDonna, who owns De La Mer Salon & Spa in Bellmore, has partnered with the district to help the program grow and to provide mentorships for its students, Melkonian said.

Students in other districts who are interested in careers in the beauty industry have to enroll in an outside program, or take a course through Nassau BOCES while still in high school. Melkonian said he believes the in-house program Bellmore-Merrick offers is more beneficial to its students. 

“It’s more personalized — more individualized,” he said, “and we have a partnership with New York state, where (the students) actually take the practical exam onsite.”

Jaime Pendl, a licensed cosmetologist who teaches in the program, said the renovations to the salon have made things easier for her and the students. The tools and equipment they’ve always used were salon-grade, she said, but the new layout and the state-of-the-art stations are a tremendous addition. Students feel a sense of ownership, Pendl explained, at their work stations, mimicking a real salon, and that motivates them to keep things neat and in good condition.

Of all the new additions, a personal favorite, Pendl said, is the pedicure station. “We never had a pedicure station previously, so it’s such a gift to be able to perform service with professional equipment,” she said. “It really sets the students up for what post-high school life would be like with a job in the beauty industry — they must sanitize and disinfect all work areas, as all New York state salons do.”

On Thursdays, the cosmetology students offer their services free services to Calhoun special education students, and on Fridays they offer discounted services to students, staff and a few outside clients.

All of the bookings, Pendl said, can be managed at the suite’s new reception desk. Rebecca Rosensweige, a student who serves as the program’s operations manager, organizes client appointments and manages outreach services.

“I really enjoy this aspect of the business and I am good at it,” Rosensweige stated in a district release last week. “I have even created a job sheet for future employment opportunities, supply lists and more that keep the program thriving.”

Pendl said she was thankful to be part of the program, because of the opportunities it gives students who may not want to go on to college. “I am very grateful to work with the district, because they are giving students different pathways,” she said. “The students are doing such a great job keeping the room beautiful and being professionals.”

Applications for the program are due on Jan. 27, 2023, and can be found on the district’s website. The program will host a showcase for prospective students on Dec. 22 at the salon. For more on the program, go to its social media at Instagram.com/Salon_Belle_Mer.