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Despite challenges of a pandemic, UCHS cosmetology students excel at recent contests

Contributed Photo • From left, Emily Rice, Meredith Garland, Emily Foster and Emily Bryant display the medals they won during SkillsUSA competition at the state level. They are all students in UCHS cosmetology classes taught by Julie Garland.

By Bryan Stevens

Several students in June Garland’s cosmetology courses at Unicoi County High School recently distinguished themselves and their school in Skills USA Cosmetology state competition. These triumphs by her students are coming at the end of what has been at times a difficult school year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Garland has been teaching at UCHS for the past 14 years. Before coming to work at UCHS, she also worked in Johnson City as a cosmetologist for 13 years.

“I am a product of my program,” she said. “I graduated in 1995 from UCHS with a state certified cosmetology license. Mrs. Patricia Frazier, former UCHS cosmetology instructor, guided me in completing my required education and state board exam prior to graduation.”

Garland noted that the education and certification allowed her to go straight into the workforce with a cosmetology state certification. She added that Frazier allowed her to compete in the Skills USA competitions.

“I would have to say these competitions are among my favorite high school memories,” Garland said. “I am grateful to be a part of the students’ lives as they create their own high school memories.”

Garland said that the UCHS cosmetology program prepares students to become state certified cosmetologists. “The class also focuses on equipping students with technical and life skills to help strengthen the workforce and create productive citizens,” she added.

Garland teaches four different levels of cosmetology. “Each class allows students to gain hours toward the required 1,500 hours needed to submit, prior to testing, to become a licensed cosmetologist,” Garland said. “I submit the student hours each month to the Tennessee State Board of Cosmetology. When students graduate, if they have not completed the 1,500 hours, they can transfer the hours to a technical college if they choose to do so.”

She has several students who have excelled in recent competitions. Emily Rice, daughter of Michael and Candice Rice, placed first in the State SkillsUSA Cosmetology competition. Meredith Garland, daughter of Adam and Julie Garland, placed first in the State SkillsUSA Nail Care competition. Emily Foster, daughter of Jason and Kristin Foster, and model Mahayla Waldrop, daughter of Greg and Melissa Waldrop, placed first in the State SkillsUSA Esthetics competition. Emily Bryant, daughter of Kevin and Lisa Bryant, and model Makenzie Casey, daughter of Leisa Brown and Rodney Casey, placed second in the State Skills USA Esthetics competition All gold medalists will have the opportunity to compete virtually in the National Skills USA competition in Atlanta, Georgia.

Garland explained that SkillsUSA is a partnership of students, teachers and industry representatives, working together to ensure America has a skilled work force. The partnership helps each student excel. SkillsUSA is a national non-profit organization serving teachers, as well as high school and college students who are preparing for careers in trade, technical and skilled service occupations, including health occupations. The partnership was formerly known as Vocational Industrial Clubs of America, or VICA.

“In years past the students who would qualify to compete at the state level would travel to Chattanooga and compete among students from all over the state,” Garland said. “The competition would last several days and they would be judged on professional attire, resume, skill level and oral communication.”

This school year was very different, according to Garland. “Students were required to embed in their resume two video links of them completing a skill, a written step-by-step process, as well as a picture presentation of each completed step of their particular task,” Garland said.

“Each student also was given a day and time to log into a Zoom meeting with their judges so that they could complete the oral communication part of the competition,” Garland said.

“The awards ceremony took place during our spring break. Each competitor and I watched the awards ceremony from school-provided Chromebooks in the comfort of our own homes.” Garland added that typically the participants are in a filled arena with lots of cheers and congratulating.

“To say the least, this year was very different,” she noted. At times, scheduling time for the competitions became a hurdle. “The competitions were going on during the school day,” Garland explained. “Some were going on at the same time, which was very challenging.”

For example, she said that during two of the oral presentations, a broadcast of school announcements made it difficult for her students in the competition to hear the questions. At the height of the pandemic, virtual/remote lab instruction proved difficult.

“The cosmetology students were sent home with a kit so they could learn some of the hands on skills at home,” Garland said. “Each student had their own manikin and stand.”

She said that she used many different technology platforms in virtual teaching. One in particular, called Flipgrid, was the most beneficial in lab instruction. “Flipgrid allowed me to upload a video presentation demonstrating a particular skill into Google classroom,” Garland said. “The students could practice watching the skill in the video and then create their own video and submit it, which allowed me to critique and grade their work.” Garland plans to make use of the new technologies she and her students have learned.

“There were many challenges; however, learning and using different technology platforms this year will enhance learning in person and virtually in the future,” she said. “I’m grateful our school system had technology in place in the form of Chromebooks for our students.” Garland said that the Chromebooks allowed teachers to provide a quality education to their students this year. The study of cosmetology might surprise some with its extensiveness.

“Cosmetology students are required to learn anatomy, disorders and diseases of the hair, skin, nails, etc.,” Garland said. “They also have to take and pass a safety exam prior to working in the lab. Cosmetology students have to learn about different types of bacteria.”

The pandemic did prevent some of the community services that she and her students are fond of providing.

“Unfortunately the COVID-19 pandemic has kept my students from being able to participate in activities that we normally would,” Garland said. “In the past some of the community service activities have included doing manicures at the senior center and nursing homes here in town, working the Libby Lu room at elementary school fundraising events and providing services in the UCHS cosmetology room for members in our community.”

Garland said that she misses those opportunities. “My students and I enjoy participating in community service and look forward to being able to do this in the future,” she said.