When a 9-year-old sits down for a makeover, the logic of picking a hairstyle is simple enough. • Janee Bonafe, a fourth-grader at Sandy Lane Elementary, likes curly hair. She has curly hair. She wanted more curly hair.
"I just like it, like, curly," Janee said.
So stylist Michelle Speir, a student at the Sunstate Beauty Academy, 2525 Drew St., went to work, giving Janee the look for which she was pining.
Along the row of mirrors and swivel chairs at the academy on Monday, 14 of Janee's classmates also were giggling with their own stylists.
Hues of blue, purple and red were splashed onto tiny fingernails. Curling irons steamed.
For the girls, the day at the salon may have been a reward at the end of their semester. But for their teachers and mentors who were watching, the after-school event was a feel-good teaching moment in self-esteem, and its momentum they hoped would linger.
Janee and her classmates are part of the first class to participate in the Girlfriends program at Sandy Lane, a mentoring program for young women hatched by Pinellas County School Board member Mary L. Tyus Brown. The goal of the after-school program: help girls find their identities at a time when looks, popularity and self-image suddenly become all-important facts of life.
"Everyone needs to feel a part of something. At this age, more than ever," said Sandy Lane school principal Delores Milton.
The idea of giving the girls makeovers, donated by the beauty school, came about after many of the girls' parents wrote to teachers about their children's burgeoning fears about the way they looked, and how those affected their academic performance.
During the 90-minute makeover session, feet dangling over the salon chairs, the 9- and 10-year-olds had time to ponder exactly why feeling nice and looking nice go hand-in-hand.
"So we can look beautiful," said one fourth-grader, Tamaya Gadsden, 9. "On the inside, and on the outside."
"You want to show that you have confidence in yourself, but at the same time, you want to look nice," Janee said.
Lessons well learned, said Angela Livingston, the school's Girlfriends program coordinator.
Many of the students at Sandy Lane come from lower-income families, where parents aren't always able to provide the guidance they would like. Livingston said that is where Girlfriends comes in, instilling cornerstone values, like respecting others, and being self-responsible.
"It means a lot. It shows them how all their work pays off," Livingston said.
Olivia McAnuff, a teacher at Sandy Lane and a mentor in the Girlfriends program, said the results have been clear.
Two weeks ago, another group of students in the program visited the salon for makeovers. When the 18 girls came to school the next day, McAnuff said the air about them was somehow changed.
"You could definitely tell it made a difference for a lot of them," she said. "When they walked in Tuesday, it was definitely, 'wow.' "