On Dec. 17, the Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District hosted the first Bellmore-Merrick Cosmetology Showcase at Sanford H. Calhoun High School, attracting teachers, administrators and students who came to see dozens of their talented peers in action.
The cosmetology program, something of a hidden gem in the district, offers students a 1,000-hour program in their junior and senior years, and prepares them for the state board exam they must take in order to become licensed. They learn everything beauty related, including hair, makeup and nail care.
“The cosmetology program has been here just about as long as the school district has,” said district cosmetology teacher Jamie Pendl, a licensed cosmetologist who has taught at private beauty schools. She is in her second year in the district, and took over the program when teacher Alana Baard retired.
“We are working really hard to revamp the program,” Pendl said. “We are trying to really get good, professional kids who are business minded and want to be in the beauty industry.
“This is a great event, because we have a bunch of salons here that are able to hire some of the kids that are ready for jobs,” she added. “We have the sophomores here that are seeing the juniors and seniors in action to see if they want to be part of [the program], so it’s kind of working out for everyone.”
Cosmetology training is a relative luxury for a school district. Students who are interested in the profession usually have to attend a beauty school or a Nassau County BOCES program, during or after high school. “It’s great here — they never have to go to beauty school and waste any additional time after graduation,” Pendl explained. “It’s free — with their tax dollars — so they never pay anything to be in the program. After the two years, they can take their state board exam and become licensed professionals, and at 17 or 18 be ready to work.”
The cosmetology wing at Calhoun is a decidedly nontraditional classroom setting, a large space with sinks, hair and nail stations, and even an eyebrow-waxing table. Outside in the hallway last Friday, there were tables set up for hair braiding, henna application and makeup.
“Next year, we’re going to upgrade,” Pendl said. “We’ll have six sinks. Each kid will have a station. We have a lot of really good things coming for the program next year, which will be awesome.”
Throughout the showcase, students and teachers were able to stop by and receive a beauty treatment. The program also has “client days,” on which visitors from outside the school can receive treatments.
“Because of Covid, we’re very limited,” Pendl said. “When there weren’t Covid restrictions, they used to have clients come in, during a client day once a week. This year we do have a friends-and-family day twice a month. They can come in as long as they’re vaccinated or show a negative test and have a mask on.”
The program is also offered to students at Wellington C. Mepham and John F. Kennedy high schools, who take a bus to Calhoun for their scheduled three-period block of cosmetology classes —periods 1 through 3 for seniors, and 7 through 9 for juniors.
“I think it’s really beneficial that it’s within the district,” Summer Marfani, a senior at Mepham, said of the program, “because when you’re in the BOCES school, there’s so many kids there that you don’t get that one-on-one. Here you get that one-on-one. All the schools are linked, and in an event like this, there’s kids coming from Mepham, from Kennedy — so you’re meeting people and you’re keeping it within your district.”
Some students, like Marfani, have already started working in the industry. Marfani does “hands and hair” at De La Mer Salon and Spa in Bellmore.
She emphasized that students in the program can still take a full complement of other courses. “After our transportation period, I have all my A.P. classes back to back,” Marfani explained. “People look at beauty and think there are no brains behind it, but there is so much behind it. We learn chemistry, biochemistry and anatomy, all of this just to learn how to work this into the hair. And you’re working with someone’s body — you have to be careful.”
It was evident that program participants owed much of their success to Pendl. “My experience has been a memorable one,” Calhoun senior Olivia Orlich said. “The one thing that stood out to me the most was Ms. Pendl. Working with a group of girls like us is not easy. We appreciate everything she does, and also everything she does for this program.”
“She’s the most wonderful teacher you’ll ever meet,” Marfani said. “She actually cares about not only the program, but the people inside it. She wants to make sure you’re OK, you’re on the right track, and everything is working out for you in the long run.
“It’s all three high schools in one [program],” Marfani added. “I met all my best friends here.”