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Hannah Shirk - From curiosity to career: BCPS student discovers passion for cosmetology

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Like most kids her age, Hannah Shirk, then a Grade 8 student at Holabird Middle School, was curious – about learning, about life, about a lot of things. But never did she think that her youthful curiosity would lead to a future career.

That is, not until it did some six years ago.

Browsing the opportunities that would be available to her in high school, Shirk stumbled upon the cosmetology program at Sollers Point Technical High School. At first, she explains, the program simply drew her eye – after all, she “had an interest in hair and makeup.” In time, though, the program captured her attention, too.


“I didn’t have any intent on choosing cosmetology as my career path,” says Shirk about her Grade 8 self. “I saw cosmetology as a side job to get me through college... but I decided to apply [to the program] on a whim to see where it would take me.”

And to Sollers Point, it took her.

“I had to perform on a mannequin head, take a small written exam, and complete an interview as my application into the program,” she says about one of her first visits to the magnet high school.

According to Vickie Mardaga, cosmetology instructor at Sollers Point, the program is one of many offered by Baltimore County Public Schools’ Office of Magnet Programs. Students interested in cosmetology apply to the program, and those who meet certain criteria go on to complete practical assessments and participate in interviews.

“The scores [from the practical assessments and interviews] are then sent to the Office of Magnet Programs,” says Mardaga about the application process. “The office adds those scores to the other criteria and sends out acceptance letters to 18 students.”

One among the chosen few, Shirk learned of her acceptance into the cosmetology program during the spring after she applied. That fall, she started high school.

At Sollers Point, students accepted into the cosmetology program begin their study in Grade 10. Over the course of three years, they complete a combination of clinical and theoretical classes, through which they earn time toward their 1,500 hours of required training.

“We practiced either theory or practicals,” says Shirk about the structure of the program. “Theory, being the bookwork part of cosmetology, was one day a week when we studied in our textbooks and workbooks for three hours... On our practical days, Mrs. Mardaga would design activity sheets for us to work on in the salon that imitated what a workday in the real world would be like.”

That bookwork and those activity sheets also reflected the material tested on the State of Maryland Board of Cosmetologists’ license examination, a two-part practical and written licensing assessment that evaluates students’ knowledge of topics related to face, hair, and skin care. Students complete the exam prior to graduation as a means of entry into the workforce.

In fact, as Mardaga explains, “Upon graduation from the program, students are licensed and are eligible to be employed in a full-service salon.”

She adds: “Some students opt to work part-time in the field... Many students use their cosmetology certifications to pay their way through college for business, finance, and other career paths.”

For her part, though, Shirk, who graduated in 2014 and currently works between a salon and a beauty supply store, has other plans for putting her cosmetology license to further use.

“I see myself eventually owning a salon of my own,” she says. “So far, I post my work on Facebook and Instagram, which has tremendously helped me build my clientele.”

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Her passion has helped, too. Quick to admit that family and friends know her to “eat, sleep, and breathe hair,” Shirk makes strides toward her goal even when she isn’t on the job.

“My days off from work consist of reading up on hair trends, new techniques, new products coming out, etc.” she says. “My life revolves around hair.”

Yet, as busy as she has been since beginning her study four years ago, Shirk insists that applying to the cosmetology program at Sollers Point is a chance that she is glad that she took – and one that others should consider, as well.

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“I want all potential cosmetology students to know that you can go amazing places with this career,” she says. “You can go as far as you let yourself go... It’s a lot of studying, and it’s not an easy program to complete, but once you have your license in your hand, it’s totally worth it.”

Cosmetology is offered at four BCPS high schools – George Washington Carver Center for Arts and Technology, Milford Mill Academy, Sollers Point Technical High School, and Western School of Technology and Environmental Science.

Story by Blake Lubinski, Department of Communications and Community Outreach. Photos from Hannah Shirk, 2014 graduate, Sollers Point Technical High School.
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