Feature in the Patriot-News
Below is a reprint of an article on the Patriot News featuring Divine Crown Academy:
Hoping to turn heads
Kierstin Gilbert of Susquehanna Twp. gives manicures to her little sister. Her grandmother was a cosmetologist, and now she’s ready to follow in those footsteps by attending Harrisburg’s newest cosmetology school. “It’s not like you’re going to sit at a desk every day and do the same thing,” Gilbert, 20, said of her career plans.
“You’re working with different people, socializing with different people. There’s so many avenues to go down with a cosmetology license. You’re doing something creative, and I love to be creative.”
Gilbert enrolled in the opening class of Divine Crown Academy of Cosmetology, billed as the first private cosmetology school within city limits in a decade. Classes start Jan. 31, and members of the first class will train in hair styling, nail technology, natural hair braiding, skin care and cosmetology teaching. They will graduate by November, ready for state licensing exams. The school also offers shorter, separate limited-licensing sessions in natural hair braiding, nail technology, aesthetics and cosmetology teaching.
The owners of Divine Crown, Samette and Curtis George, of Susquehanna Twp., owned a three-salon chain — Play It Again, Sam — until 1997, when Samette George started teaching cosmetology at the Harrisburg School District’s Career Technology Academy. Curtis George taught industrial arts and other subjects in Harrisburg until a 2007 layoff.
Last year, Samette George got caught in the district’s decision to restructure the academy and send cosmetology students to Dauphin County Technical School. The decision left the city without a public or private cosmetology school, even though “college isn’t for everybody,” she said. Early last summer, discussions to open a school in partnership with the school district fell through, after the Georges leased space in Kline Village Plaza, fronting Market Street and across from Harrisburg High School.
The Georges left for a Bahamas vacation soon after but avoided “the regular touristy things” and sought guidance from God, Samette George said. They got their sign on a Bahamas beach, when a rainbow configuration with crownlike points appeared on the horizon.
“He pretty much said, ‘They dropped the ball. Pick that ball up,'” she said. “We have a chance to empower youth in our community. We have a chance to help revitalize Harrisburg.”
Blaine Fasnacht, co-owner of Hair Visions salon, Susquehanna Twp., used to conduct mock exams to prepare George’s Career Technology Academy students for licensure.
“In April of my senior year is when I took my state boards,” he said. “I was working in 11th grade in a hair salon as an assistant. I was 16 years old and doing what I wanted to do, and I’m still doing it. It’s a shame that young kids don’t have that choice anymore.”
To open Divine Crown, the Georges drained their resources — CDs, retirement, daughters’ college funds — and sank them into renovating the Kline Village space into hair and nail stations, skin-care room, and classroom. Samette George and the school are actively licensed, according to the state Department of Labor and Industry.
Hairdressers and cosmetologists earn an average of $26,750 in Dauphin County and $24,360 in Cumberland County, the department said. While job openings are projected to average 5.8 percent statewide through 2015, hairdressing and cosmetology will grow 16.2 percent.
“Sometimes, even when times are tough, women will get their hair done,” Samette George said. “Even when the economy is tight, they have to go to work. They have to present themselves. It’s one of those things that computers can’t do for us.”
In addition to hair, skin and nail care, students will study entrepreneurship, salon management and community service. Under a sepia portrait of Gilded Age beauty entrepreneur Madame C.J. Walker, students will learn the history of cosmetology.
“She was a trailblazer,” George said. “She definitely opened the door to beauty culture for African-Americans. As far as I’ve been able to learn, she’s our country’s first self-made millionaire, our country’s first black millionaire and our country’s first female millionaire. She was a bad sister.”
But “just because we’re a black-owned school does not mean we teach just black hair care,” George said. Students will learn Asian, Caucasian, Latino and black hair care from a diverse staff, “so they’re not pigeonholed into their own community, so they can actually stretch out.”
Students and interested potential students are “female, male, all ages, all walks of life,” George said. Some are laid off or inspired by the recession to change careers, she said. George structured the school and space to anticipate beauty trends, said Wendy Wheaton, co-owner of Hair Visions.
“It’s beautiful,” she said. “She didn’t cut any corners. She’s got classrooms going. She’s got facials. She’s got the aesthetician program, for makeup and skin care. With the spa industry, she’s not missing out on that.”
Students as young as 15 can enroll and take evening, weekend and Saturday courses. The Georges’ 17-year-old daughter, with a newly acquired nail technician’s license, plans to work while she’s in college and raise money toward her dream of dental school.
As a former state licensing board examiner, George said she focuses students on the skills needed to earn a license. The point of licensing isn’t aesthetics but proof of the operator’s sanitary practices. “Our ultimate goal is, you pass the state board exam and obtain gainful employment,” she said.
Gilbert said that Divine Crown “represents progress” for the city and hopes to follow in the footsteps of the Georges by opening her own salon someday.
“They’re just such wonderful people,” she said. “They’re like family already, and I just met them. It’s been a major blessing to me.”