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Honing a cutting edge

With meticulous care, Carrie Rose puts the finishing touches to the delicate designs on Brittany Daily's fingernails. The French manicure takes about half an hour, but the results are worth it, says its 17-year-old creator.

"It's unique, something that you can show off to your friends," said Carrie, as she paused to examine her work. "For me, it's a chance to be creative and make something that I'm really proud of."

The Nature Coast Technical School senior fell in love with nail art shortly after she signed up in the school's cosmetology vocational program last August. Since then, she has become quite proficient. She can perform full manicures and pedicures, apply acrylic overlays, and color and style nails to satisfy just about any wish. She hopes to complete her 250-hour training so that she can secure a well-paying job after she graduates.

"My plan is to be a professional ballet dancer, but I figure I'm going to need a good sideline job when work is slow," Carrie said. "I enjoy this kind of work, and it pays really well."

In fact, talk with any of the 140 students enrolled in Nature Coast Tech's cosmetology program and chances are they agree. Many are drawn to it because it satisfies their creative desires. It's also a profession that offers better-than-average financial incentives. A stylist in a busy shop can earn upwards of $1,000 per week.

"Most of the kids in here seem to get a great joy out of doing for others," teacher Barbara Marino said. "Many of them have a good eye for beauty in a person's appearance. That's a talent. What we try to do is show them how to use the tools and to try and give them confidence in themselves."

The program is something of a primer in the cosmetology arts. However, for students interested in pursuing a state professional license, which requires 1,200 hours of classroom and clinical studies, everything taught is considered essential knowledge in the profession.

Marino and fellow teacher Nancy Kramer admit they're sticklers for teaching not just the physical science of cosmetology, but the theory behind it as well. Students may be taught how to create the latest hair styles and the correct procedures in applying a color rinse, but they are also required to learn about things such as scalp diseases and toxic chemical reactions.

"A lot of them are surprised at first how much book work is required in this program," said Kramer, who spent more than 20 years in the cosmetology profession before becoming an educator. "My hope is that once they're out in the real word, they'll be confident as well as successful."

Most of the students in the program say that their initial interest in cosmetology started at a young age, often with a bottle of their mother's fingernail polish, which they applied in secret. As they approached adolescence, they started wearing makeup and trying to copy hair designs they saw in magazines and on TV.

"It was something that always fascinated me, but I never really thought of it as profession until I got here," said 17-year-old Alison Spehr. "For a long time I wanted to get into culinary arts, but I found this was a great way to express myself."

As a senior, Alison is on track to finish the program before the end of the school year. With nearly all of her academic requirements now completed, she spends much of her day in the cosmetology lab working on hair-styling projects and course work.

Using a mannequin head, she carefully performs a permanent wrap. Using a comb, she tufts the hair into neat curled rows in preparation for a chemical treatment. The process is considered essential to any hair stylist, so much so that she must perform it 65 times in order to receive her cosmetology certificate. Though Alison admits it is somewhat tedious, she agrees that it will make her a valuable employee someday.

"You have to practice a lot in order to be able to do it quickly," she said. "Permanents are big business, and I plan to make lots of money."

Because so many have notions of operating their own business some days, students are schooled in many of the business-related aspects of the profession. Among the most important is how to communicate with customers.

"It makes sense," junior Kim Knox said. "The whole idea of getting your hair styled is having it done the way you like it. We practice on each other, and we've had teachers in here as well. It helps because everyone is different, and you need to learn how to give them what they want."

Although students will have to wait until fall to offer hairstyling to the public, the school offers nail salon services to the public on weekday afternoons by appointment. For more information on the service, contact Nancy Kramer at 797-7088.