On a Friday morning at DeKalb High School of Technology South (DHSTS) it seems like a normal day except each time a door a few hundred yards away from the main office opened, R&B music briefly flooded the otherwise quiet hallway.
The music was coming from the school’s barber shop, where students come each day from their home schools in south DeKalb to learn the trade and earn practice hours to eventually become certified.
For more than five years, Renee Breedlove has been teaching high school students how to cut hair. Currently, DHSTS serves 10 schools located in south DeKalb. Students can attend classes at the center to learn such trades as barbering, cosmetology, auto mechanics and others.
Prior to teaching barbering, Breedlove taught math in the DeKalb County School District (DCSD) for 23 years. She said officials at Miller Grove High School were deciding what type of career technology program they could implement; since she was already a licensed barber she offered her services.
“It’s a good thing; it’s an honest way they can go out and make money if they don’t go off to college. Some of them go off to college and then in the summer months they try to complete some hours,” Breedlove said.
To be eligible for the state certification test, students must first complete 1,500 hours of training. At DHSTS each student can earn up to 450 hours. Breedlove said the school also partners with several local barber schools in the area.
“We have an agreement with them where they accept the 450 hours. Instead of the kids having to do a lot of bookwork first they can go straight on the floor and do live bodies when they get to school,” Breedlove said.
Currently, Breedlove has 10 students in the morning and 11 in the evening; most of them are male although there are a few females. If students are struggling with courses at their home school they’re required to go back and finish the course they’re failing before coming back to the barber class.
Breedlove said while in the class, the students can practice by cutting their friends’ hair. Additionally, students give free haircuts to the elderly. Outside clients have to pay $5 and all of the money goes back into the program.
Rakim Johnson began Breedlove’s class in August 2011. He said he was inspired to take the class by his mother, who is a hair stylist.
“She always used to take me to the shop with her—the shop was half women and half men—so I always had an interest in it,” Johnson said.
Johnson plans to attend college and study mass communication but said he was in the barber class so he could have something to fall back on.
Breedlove said most of the students who come through her program end up sticking with barbering in “one way or another.”
“I just had a kid who is in the service and he’s in Kentucky. He’s married now and he finished in Miller Grove in 2007 and he just called me and asked me if I could give him a copy of his hours and his transcript. He wanted to go ahead and finish,” Breedlove said.
In addition to fades and regular haircuts, Breedlove said the students also do texturizers, hair coloring, beard and mustache trimming and basic cosmetology. DHSTS Principal Dr. Vikki Williams said her goal is to enable each student enrolled in the school to graduate with some sort of job certification.
“I tell the kids, it doesn’t matter if you’re destined to go to college or if you’re destined to go straight into the workforce,” Williams said. “Leaving here with some type of certification attached can help you work while you’re in college or you’re ready to walk right into a company with a job.”
Williams has been the principal at DHSTS for two years. Prior to that, Williams was a career technical education instructor at Columbia High School, an assistant principal at Southwest DeKalb High School and a career education instructional coordinator at the district’s central office.
“I have a passion for the career and technical education pathway,” Williams said. “I feel that with the economy and the way things are going now, I think that students need to be trained in some sort of skill and have some type of certification when they graduate high school.”