Coronavirus Impact: Cosmetology students deal with virtual learning, styling hair on doll heads

ByJuan Carlos Guerrero KGO logo
Thursday, June 18, 2020
Students learn to style hair in a virtual classroom
The switch to virtual learning has created challenges for cosmetology students who rely on hands-on instruction to learn to style hair.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Class is underway at the San Francisco Institute of Esthetics and Cosmetology. But instead of having a room full of students, the instructor has just an iPad to worry about.

"Do you guys see that line right there? That's what it is going to look like when it is all gone," Alicia Anderson tells her class as she colors a few strands of hair on a mannequin head.

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Normally, the room would be full of students watching her demonstrate a technique, but since the stay-at-home order went into effect in mid-March, Anderson and other teachers have had to instruct students on the proper way of cutting and dying hair through video.

She has an iPad propped up on a small tray and leaning on two shampoo bottles as she explains the dos and don'ts of hair coloring. Dozens of students are watching from their home, where they are taking notes and asking questions.

Having students get hands-on training has been more difficult, but teachers are adjusting.

"I have been able to be on a call with somebody while they are cutting their mom's or their sister's hair and I say 'no, hold it higher' or 'bring it towards you,'" said Anderson, who has been with the school since 2011.

Students also send in photos of their work and teachers can write notes on the picture to make corrections and send it back to the students.

"It is definitely difficult because they are not there over your shoulder," said Alanna Hamilton, a student at the school. "Thankfully, I can either send a video to any of the learning leaders, or I can send a photo and they can call and walk us through it."

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Hamilton is making the best of the virtual classes. She enjoys that she does not have to drive from Petaluma to take classes, and that she can get close up views of the techniques.

When classes were in person, she used to have to stand back from the teacher and peek over other students' shoulders to see what the teacher was doing. Virtual classes have changed that.

"When I have that iPad in front of me and the teacher has it right in front of that section of hair that she is working on, I can really see what she is doing."

But other students have struggled with the change to online learning. Serenity Hardy started at SFIEC last October. She used to have perfect attendance but has been skipping classes since the school had to switch to online learning.

"I am a hands-on learner and by me having to be home doing classes, I am not as really into it and I have way more distractions versus me being in class and focused on the class," she said.

Hardy has it especially difficult. She is homeless and was living at a Navigation Center. Going to class was an escape for her. She could concentrate on her work at the school.

When the COVID-19 pandemic started, the Navigation Centers closed and she was moved to a hotel for homeless residents.

"I am around others who are not into school. I log on sometimes then I log off," she said. Hardy has had to listen to lectures while sitting on a sidewalk. She has a mannequin head in her room to practice technique but is craving human contact.

Motivation has been an obstacle for students. Many enjoy hair styling for the social aspect of the job. Sitting by themselves in front of a computer has been a challenge for some.

"What has changed is the ability to high five your friend and get close to somebody," said Deedee Crossett, who founded the school. "I think there are some mental health challenges as well. Some students are sad and lonely and they are trying to figure out how to stay motivated."

Crossett has begun incorporating meditation and stretching into the curriculum. "We had students say thank you for that. I really needed it."

The San Francisco Institute of Esthetics and Cosmetology hopes to start in-person teaching slowly by bringing in small groups to do hands-on work with a teacher.

"I see the industry thriving in this pandemic. We just need to make sure that the virus is contained so that people can come back safely," said Crossett.

The goal is to be able to welcome clients again, hopefully by mid-July. The school offers discounted prices and has a varied clientele that includes elderly and homeless.

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