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The young barbers in Blake High's new salon are happy to finally have a room to themselves, away from all the girly stuff.

For two years they worked side by side: boys cutting fades and trimming thick mustaches next to girls retouching roots and flat-ironing poofy hair.

The setup in the Howard W. Blake High School's cosmetology program did not promote much crossover. Saul Lebron, a senior in the program, said he's had only three female clients.

"They're like, 'No, you ain't touching my hair!'" said Lebron, 18. "You know how girls are."

But Blake's program got a makeover. On Monday, the school celebrated its grand opening of Salon Blake, which features a newly renovated salon and a full barbershop in a separate room. It's the only high school in the Hillsborough County district with a barbershop, and it's open to the public.

Tevin Smith, an 18-year-old who works in the barbershop, said the change has made his dreams of running his own place one day seem more obtainable.

"It made me feel like I was in a real shop," he said, "like I was a real businessman."

Apoleon Moore, the instructor in the barbering program, said his 80 students learn everything from technique - he chooses which ones are ready to use razors - to operating a business.

Separating the two sides also helps cultivate the vibe of a real barbershop, he said.

"We were just preaching about that in chapter three," he said. "You have to talk to your customers about whatever. You're more than a barber, you're a counselor."

If they begin early enough in their high school career, students in the cosmetology program can earn enough credit hours to apply for state licenses when they graduate. Others can go into technical programs or salon schools.

"You've got this coming out of high school and you've got a skill," said Moore. "This is a recession-proof job."

Haircuts start at $5 in the barbershop and salon, and coloring begins at $15. Proceeds go back into the program, said teacher JoAnn Daves.

A private hair products company, Influance Hair Care, donated $5,000 to the renovations. Several local salon owners donated equipment and tools.

Customers have included students and faculty. Teacher and basketball coach George Lewis dropped by the grand opening Monday. His hair care requires little effort - he's bald, after all - but he said the boys at the barber shop have taken care of his facial hair.

"They do a great job," he said.

Over on the salon side, the girls were just as excited about their new digs. Stylist Geraldine Raymond, 15, was straightening the hair of fellow freshman Alaezea Longmire.

"This is my best friend forever slash cousin," said Alaezea, explaining why she decided to see Geraldine. "Since it's looking so good, I'm coming back."

"The best way to advertise is to please your customer," said Geraldine.

There in the salon, the two girls imagined their future.

"I'm going to be a fashion designer and play piano on the side," said Alaezea. "And her salon is going to be in my store. And we'll have my piano playing over the intercom."

Geraldine nodded her head as she kept straightening.

Reach Jodie Tillman at or (813) 226-3374.