Skip To Content

A Cut Above

Gorman ISD seniors led the annual angel tree project. Pictured left to right: Brooke Gillen, Shawndelle Harrington, Emma Little, Lauren Campbell, and Ceidy Guzman.

It was the kind of chatter that often happens during a haircut. They talked about kids and what was going on in the schools. Then, Shawndelle Harrington was asked a question that would put her on the path to bring a new career and technology education program to Gorman ISD, a small rural district in northwest Texas.

“I was cutting the school counselor’s hair and she said to me, ‘I noticed that your license says instructor and hers says cosmetologist, and I want to know what the difference is,’” Harrington recounted. “I told her that I’m licensed to teach cosmetology.”

The counselor was thrilled to hear that information. She knew a few girls in the district of 250 students who wanted to take cosmetology courses and wondered if Harrington could help her. That simple request turned out to be the start of a CTE program that would transform the lives of not only the cosmetology students but would also have a positive impact on the community.

“It’s the little program that could,” said Gorman ISD Superintendent Mike Winter.

Districts large and small across the state are putting more resources into CTE programs to align with regional workforce needs, but there is also an awareness that these programs instill far more than occupational skills. “Cosmetology gave them a focus and direction and a little bit more motivation to do better in school in general,” Winter said of the students who have participated in the program. “So many of our students today are aimless, especially after COVID. A program like this gives them the direction they need and want.”

Building a Program

Landing in Gorman after her husband retired from teaching automotive CTE classes in Birdville ISD in Haltom City, the Harringtons were looking forward to returning to his hometown and being part of the farming and ranching community west of Fort Worth. A former cosmetology teacher at Birdville ISD, Harrington rented a chair at a local salon in Gorman and jumped at the chance to expand when the opportunity came to buy the barbershop next door.

As district leaders explored creating a cosmetology program in Gorman, Harrington offered her insight as a CTE and cosmetology teacher. She suggested they try to partner with a community college to offer the coursework to students and even participated in initial conversations with local colleges.

Winter knew that Harrington would be a necessary part of the program. Nearby Ranger College agreed to partner with Gorman ISD to offer dual credit, which allowed the district to hire Harrington as a part-time teacher.

“For me personally, it was a leap of faith,” Winter said. “If we try something and fail on behalf of students, then we aren’t really failing.” The school board gave its full support to the endeavor.

The district rented a shop in town and its maintenance department got it ready and inspected the day before the start of the 2021-22 school year, when five students enrolled in the inaugural class. By the next school year, Harrington went full time with a group of juniors in the mornings and seniors in the afternoons.

For the 2024-25 school year, the program will include sophomores and be open to nearby districts. “We are in conversations to expand to a bigger facility,” said Harrington.

The four seniors who have been in the CTE program this year will graduate with associate degrees from Ranger College, a community college in the town of Ranger, before they graduate from high school, with dual licenses in barbering and cosmetology.

“Cosmetology is very beneficial to us for many reasons,” said senior Brooke Gillen as she discussed the confidence she has gained to go out and talk to potential clients. “With being in cosmetology, I have blossomed.”

“It’s truly a passion,” added senior Ceidy Guzman.

More than Cosmetology

In 2018, the Texas Education Agency considered cutting cosmetology from CTE offerings because wage data indicated professions in cosmetology and barbering were on the lower end of the salary scale. However, the feedback from students, teachers, and industry professionals strongly supported the value of these programs.

Harrington and Winter presented on the success of the Gorman CTE program at txEDCON23.

“It’s about so much more than just doing hair,” Harrington explained. From color theory to microbiology to workplace safety, cosmetology students complete more than 1,000 hours of coursework. Harrington also insisted on a district membership in the Texas chapter of SkillsUSA, a career and technical student organization (CTSO).

According to the U.S. Department of Education, CTSOs are a critical component of effective CTE programs. CTSOs offer activities that support instructional programs like cosmetology through events and competitions on the regional, state, and national level. The Texas chapter of SkillsUSA is a CTSO approved by TEA, along with eight other organizations in the state.

A national organization, SkillsUSA states its goal is to improve “the quality of America’s skilled workforce through a structured program of citizenship, leadership, employability, technical, and professional skills training.” This is largely done through a series of competitions in everything from automotive maintenance to wedding cake design.

Harrington had experienced the value of these competitions in her previous teaching positions. “The student gets to just focus on what they want to be. You get to see what it’s going to be like to be a barber,” she said as an example of one of the competitions Gorman ISD students had excelled at this year. “It shows them that you are learning all these different tools you can put in your belt.”

Impacting a Community

To get the competition program off the ground, the cosmetology students held a holiday fundraiser in the park, which included a parade, vendor booths, caroling, a hayride, and a visit from Santa. They partnered with the Gorman Chamber of Commerce and local businesses to raise money to travel to and participate in SkillsUSA competitions.

After the fundraiser’s success, a community member asked Harrington if her students wanted to help with another charitable effort — the annual angel tree project.

“So many families in our community depend on the local angel tree project to make Christmas possible for their children,” said Belinda Segura, director of the Gorman food bank.

The small group of cosmetology seniors agreed to take it on. To them, the angel tree project was about giving other children in the community “the Christmas that they deserve.”

Harrington was so impressed with how the students tackled the angel trees that she decided they should participate in a state SkillsUSA competition in the leadership division, which has a community service component.

As part of the SkillsUSA leadership competition, the students had to show the process they used to develop their community service project based on their motto, “Teamwork makes our community work.” The seniors created a system that allowed parents to voluntarily fill out information about their children, including ages, clothing sizes, and gifts that would make them happy. The students then organized the names to provide confidentiality for participating families and the 45 children among them.

The angel trees, hand decorated by the students to reflect each child, were then placed in three local businesses and the word was spread to the community and beyond through social media. As gifts and donations poured in, the students developed a system of organization to help the eventual distribution go smoothly.

When the time came, it was important to the students to create a welcoming environment for parents to come pick up gifts. They chose a local church as the pickup location. The event included music and Christmas cookies as the seniors efficiently used their system to bring out the gifts to the families, along with wrapping paper and tape.

“One family had 11 kids and we were able to provide over $500 for each kid,” Gillen said about the generosity of people who donated.

Transforming Lives

During a presentation at TASB’s Governance Camp in early March, the cosmetology students stressed the importance of personal, workplace, and technical skills in the SkillsUSA framework.

“Without having SkillsUSA and cosmetology, we wouldn’t have made those sacrifices,” senior Lauren Campbell said about the angel tree experience. “I’m a different person now. I am able to look at things and be completely grateful.”

Through preparing both for the CTE-related competitions and the community service project, the students practiced soft skills such as talking to customers and being professional in their community interactions.

“Work ethic is something we had to build and not something that is just made in one day,” said Guzman. “We had to practice, practice, and practice to get good at what we were doing. You have to build that work ethic along with self-motivation.”

An important goal of the project for the students was to make sure the families were signed up with the local food bank to ensure they had food supplies for the rest of the year to be picked up weekly. The students packed 310 boxes at the local food bank for the families to take home along with the gifts.

“Selfless acts like this make our community stronger and a great place to live,” Gorman Mayor David K. Perry said about the angel tree project and the impact it had on the community. “I only hope that they will remain in our community after graduation or return to us after finishing their education.”

After graduation this May, Campbell plans to use her newly acquired licenses to pursue cosmetology and has had a job offer from a salon in nearby Stephenville where the staff would like to mentor her career. Guzman plans to go to college and use her cosmetology skills to help supplement her income as she pursues a degree in communications at Texas State University.

After the completion of the project, the students “put a book together and they won gold at district and then they went on and won silver at state,” Harrington said.

“The way that we learned how to do this was through having opportunity in the CTE program and participation in SkillsUSA,” said Gillen. Her goal after graduation is to open her own studio in Gorman that will include a variety of cosmetology services as well as photography.

“You can be a small school and you can go to state and win third place,” Campbell said. “Let us be an example to you that through believing in ourselves, our confidence, work ethic, communication, teamwork, and the support of our community, we were able to show what a small 1A school can do.”

Photo: Gorman ISD seniors led the annual angel tree project. Pictured left to right: Brooke Gillen, Shawndelle Harrington, Emma Little, Lauren Campbell, and Ceidy Guzman.

Was this article helpful?
Beth Griesmer
Senior Communications Specialist

Beth Griesmer is a senior communications specialist for TASB.