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West grad closing in on master license
Jenna Palazzo practices hair styling techniques at the West Forsyth High School cosmetology lab. Palazzo, who graduated in May, is close to becoming the first cosmetology student from the public school program to receive a master cosmetology license. - photo by Crystal Ledford

Like most little girls, Jenna Palazzo used to cut her Barbie dolls’ hair. Little did she know that act would someday lead to a career path.

Palazzo, who graduated from West Forsyth High School in May, will take the Georgia exam later this summer to receive a license as a master cosmetologist.

If successful, she’ll be the first student in the county’s public high school program, which is offered at West and Forsyth Central, to receive the master level certification.

Palazzo explained that the master certification includes licensure in every area of cosmology.

“It’s more hours and you learn pretty much everything,” she said. “Like if you were just going to get your esthetician license, you would just be dealing with skin care; or nail technician, you would just be dealing with nails.

“But a master cosmetologist license is a lot more hours and you learn the works … eyebrow waxing, nails, skin, facials, hair, everything.”

While Palazzo will be the first participant in the public schools’ cosmetology program to earn the master license, she likely won’t be the last.

Joyce Thomas, who leads West’s program, said she has several students coming up who will eventually also take the master’s license exam.

“Jenna’s our first one, but next year in the county we have six and then the next year we have 12,” Thomas said.

Through the program that Palazzo is finishing this summer, students take four years of cosmetology courses in high school. In addition, Thomas said they take three courses of summer school, an advanced styling class and complete two internships.

“Jenna’s been through all that … we’re very proud of her for sticking it out because that’s a lot of hours to put in,” Thomas said.

The training program also includes hands-on experience with clients, although students don’t work on real people until they’ve had 250 hours of in-class training.

Thomas said both her program and one at Central have many days throughout the year when they are open to customers.

“We’re open most days [during the school year] until noon,” she said. “We have a lot of teachers, coaches and we have community events during the evenings a couple of times a years that a lot of people from the community attend.”

Through her high school experience, Palazzo said, she’s built a client base that will be helpful when she finds her first job, hopefully later this summer.

“A lot of the clients that I’ve done here, they’re going to continue getting their hair done by me,” she said. “That’s good because it builds your confidence.”

She said cosmetology will provide a way for her to support herself while she pursues her true love of ministering to others.

“I’m one of Jehovah’s Witnesses and one of my goals has always been to become a full-time minister,” she said. “It would be hard to support myself and this is really helping me be able to that.

“We go door to door and if I sign up to do that, I would be doing that work for 70 hours a month. [Cosmetology] is perfect because I can make quite a bit of money in a short amount of time.”

Thomas added that the program is good for students for many reasons, such as helping them learn professional skills while still in high school.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity because they can do their training while in high school,” Thomas said. “But it also teaches them to focus and set goals, and that’s so important while they’re in high school.”

She noted that after Palazzo successfully completes the state exam, which includes written and hands-on sections, she will be able to go to work if she chooses or go to a technical school for more training.

“She can go to any salon or she could go and get more education to be able to teach,” she said. “She can really do anything she wants.”

Palazzo said the program was “a lot of hard work,” but definitely worth it.

“Even the first semester of my senior year, I was in this classroom five out of seven periods of the day,” she said. “But it saved a lot of money and I ended up loving it.”