MOSES LAKE — It’s Friday morning, and 17-year-old Ethyn Gonzales is right where he wants to be.
At the Elegance Hair Academy. Cutting hair.
“Me and my friends started cutting hair in a back room at the high school,” the Moses Lake High School junior said. “I took an interest in it from there.”
Gonzales slowly and carefully sculpts the hair of his friend Rigo Ceja, also 17 and a junior at Moses Lake High School, with an electric razor. While he’s only in the first year of the Columbia Basin Technical Skills Center’s barbering and cosmetology program, Gonzales knows exactly what he wants to do with his life.
“I’m looking forward to owning my own barber shop someday,” he said
Gonzales, one of three young men learning how to barber at Elegance, is just one of over 40 kids from CB Tech who are learning and working at Elegance Hair Academy, which is overseen by Blanca Fuentes, the cosmetology teacher at CB Tech.
“Our clientele are mainly teens and their parents,” Fuentes said. “They all have friends, and they come in here too.”
Walking into Elegance is a slightly different experience. There are no headshots of models with perfect hair cuts or amazing styles. There are two big black-and-white pictures of Blanca and her husband Armando and their three children playing in the leaves.
And photos of everyone in the first class of kids who learned and worked at Elegance.
“I wanted something different,” she said. “Something cozy and welcoming.”
Elegance is part of a CB Tech program that teaches students the art of cosmetology, basic barbering, and nail tech. The classes are designed to help students get their licenses, and you don’t have to be in high school to study at Elegance.
“I grew up with four sisters, and we would always do each other’s hair,” said 19-year-old Candida Cruz, who is studying at Elegance.
Fuentes is, by her own admission, an unlikely high school teacher. She started teaching in 2010 at Char-Glo School of Beauty just around the corner, a place Fuentes thanks for giving her a start in life.
But Fuentes also believes her own life story shows that young people need to see alternatives ways to making a living and living happy and successful lives.
“A lot of kids who don’t like school, who are failing, (the programs at CB Tech) give them a little bit of hope,” she said.
“I’m not a college person, I dropped out of college twice. But I feel pretty successful, I get to do something I like, and I affect kids one moment at a time,” Fuentes explained.
And as a teacher, Fuentes sees her job as equipping students with skills for a world in which many will change jobs or careers or occupations several times over their lives.
Even if those skills are very basic life skills. Because those transfer from job to job.
“Some kids have no manners, and they aren’t respectful,” she said. “So I teach people skills. They always learn something: how to be respectful, how to treat people right.”
In the basement, where Elegance has its classrooms, 17-year-old Othello High School student Herlinda Montemayor applies eye shadow to her friend Cheyanne Miller, a nursing student at CB Tech.
“I like makeup,” Montemayor said. “When people look different, they feel good about themselves. There’s more than you think on the face.”
Montemayor hopes to get her cosmetology license, but she also plans to attend college and hopefully become a nurse practitioner.
“I always liked cosmetology, but this is a backup plan, just in case anything happens. You never know,” she said.
It’s good to have that backup skill, Fuentes said.
“They can do hair on the side. There’s always a demand for that. Hair does not stop growing,” she said.
Charles H. Featherstone can be reached via email at email@example.com.