WAYNESBURG – What if your son or daughter could graduate high school with a marketable skill, one that could immediately propel them into the workforce or give them an edge into and/or even help pay for their higher education?
That option exists at Greene County Career and Technology Center (GCCTC), and the story of cosmetology graduate Charlene Mitchell demonstrates just that.
Mitchell went on to be a cosmetology instructor after graduating from the program in 1990, and she currently operates her third salon.
Her daughter, Kirsten Clites, 17, is a junior at Jefferson-Morgan High School, and is following in Mitchell’s footsteps as a cosmetology student at GCCTC.
The family ties to the technology center don’t end there. Mitchell’s sister studied marketing at GCCTC; two of her nephews went through the precision machining program; while a third nephew studied drafting and design. Mitchell’s husband, Bob, instructs the electrical and power transmission installers program.
“We have definitely kept it in the family,” Mitchell said.
As successful as she’s been in cosmetology, it is somewhat shocking when Mitchell says she was discouraged from attending GCCTC by the high school she attended (Mapletown).
“The school district told me I was too smart to go to the vo-tech (that’s what it was called at the time) so I took business classes at my home school during 10th grade,” Mitchell said. “But, cosmetology was what I really wanted to do. When I was in 11th grade, my parents decided they were going to push for it.”
During Mitchell’s senior year of high school, GCCTC began offering cosmetology to adult students. Since she lost out on the first year of the three-year program by not attending as a sophomore, Mitchell continued classes there after her 1989 high school graduation. She completed the program a year later with certifications to teach and work as a cosmetologist.
“I got a job immediately after high school working in a small salon, Hair Partners. I worked there about 18 months. Then I opened my own salon, Charlene’s Corner Shop,” Mitchell said. “I subbed at the vo-tech in between and worked as a paraprofessional at Mapletown tutoring high school students who were attending the vo-tech.”
Mitchell said she considered herself to be a very quiet teenager and someone easily intimidated.
“I’m a very different person because of the training I had at the vo-tech. Skills (USA) was probably one of the best things I did while I was attending,” Mitchell said. “I was the state alumnae representative of Skills for several years after high school and became the Skills adviser when I was teaching at the CTC full time.”
Skills USA is a national student organization that develops employability, participatory and leadership skills. Mitchell said Skills, GCCTC and her family’s support, gave her the social skills to get up in front of a group of people and speak.
“I would have never been able to do that if I wouldn’t have gone to the CTC my junior year. My parents are still very much supporters of a vo-tech education,” Mitchell said. “If kids and parents would just realize what is there.”
In 2001, Mitchell began teaching full time at GCCTC. She closed her shop to help teach cosmetology with her mentor and former instructor, Edie Hall.
After seven years Mitchell was laid off due to budget cuts. Two years after that, her husband suggested putting a hair shop onto an addition they were building at their home. That’s where Mitchell opened Shear Dreams.
“For about two years after opening the shop I taught night classes at Western Area Career and Technology Center while operating the salon, but it became too much,” Mitchell said. She decided to leave teaching.
For Kirsten, the desire to follow in her mom’s footsteps “totally started here,” at the CTC, she said on a break from class Monday.
“I grew up in her shop and just grew into it (cosmetology). I used to come here all the time when I was little and the girls always played with my hair when I came in,” Kirsten said.
She said she gets frustrated by the many misconceptions of what GCCTC is all about.
“There are people that make fun of us because we are in tech. I want to say to them, ‘We’re graduating with jobs and you are graduating and will have to go to college, get a degree and then try to find work,’” Kirsten said.
“So many people graduate and then go on to school for this (cosmetology) when it is free here, all because they don’t want the term attached to them, they don’t want to be called a ‘tech.’ ”
Kirsten said the funny thing is there is a wide variety of people who attend GCCTC, including student-athletes. She should know. Kirsten plays both softball and basketball and was a former cheerleader.
“The CTC prepares students for life,” she said. “All of the teachers here are extremely helpful.”
Although the plan is for Kirsten to work in her mother’s shop, she hopes to also pursue a certification in massage therapy.
“I have been happy to share with her the experience of going through the CTC,” Mitchell said of her daughter. “Even if she chooses not to continue in the field, she has an education and a trade she will be able to use throughout her lifetime no matter what. Doors open right out of high school if you attend a technical program, and it doesn’t cost you $30,000 for the education.”