At one Capital Region high school, students can add fades, tape-ups and crew cuts to reading, writing and arithmetic.
When Green Tech High School, an all-boys charter school in Albany’s Delaware Avenue area, reached out to Luis Williams about leading a teens’ barber class, he saw it as a way to pass on a career’s worth of knowledge. Now owner of Celebrities Barbershop on Central Avenue, Williams has been cutting hair for 31 years — since he was just 12 years old.
“It’s just like riding a bike. Once you know how to cut hair, you know how to cut hair," says Williams. "So you might get rusty, but once you pick up a pair of clippers and get back to it, you’re gonna pick up all your old skills.”
Williams says his apprentices at “GTH Shape Up” – a bright-green, in-school barbershop complete with styling chairs, training mannequins, and a shampoo station – will learn everything it takes to be a barber: how to fine-tune their edge-ups, perfect their fades, and wash, cut, and shave hair. By program’s end, Green Tech Principal and CEO Dr. Paul Miller says students 16 and older can earn their license.
“It’s really a science – cutting someone’s hair is a science, and it’s almost an art," says Miller. "They’re gonna learn about the chemistry and the different chemicals, they’re going to learn how to and what not to do, and how to be safe as they’re doing it.”
This isn’t Green Tech’s first foray into vocational training. In its production studio launched last year, students record, mix, and market their own songs. This year, students in a new entrepreneurship class will actually buy, build, and sell a house in Albany – hence the new construction tech lab next door to the barbershop, where Miller says students will practice land surveying, plumbing, roofing, and more.
The school pushes its graduates to go to college, but Miller says it’s not for everyone, and sees the labs as a way of increasing students’ options.
“By the time they leave here, they will not only understand how to do these items for themselves, but they could go and work for different elements of a construction company and probably do well," Miller explains. "Or go work at a barbershop and make money, or cut hair while they’re in college in their dorm room and make money, and give them some kind of sustainability.”
Miller says 15 students have signed up for GTH Shape Up so far, which will operate as an after-school program until it becomes a full-time elective next year. With family and friends in the barbering business, junior Keishon Rembert has been eager to get behind the chair.
“Everything in a barbershop is like, good vibes," smiles Rembert. "If you’ve got any problems, like life problems, you can go to the barbershop, and then you know people there, you can get a haircut – it just brings good vibes in the barbershop, because everybody’s cool."
In his first class, Williams shares some of the top things he’s learned as a barber: communication is key, cleanliness is mandatory, and word of mouth can make or break your business – a bad haircut takes about two weeks to grow out. The biggest lesson Williams wants students to take away from the barbering life, however, is to not take it for granted.
“A computer is never gonna take over a barber. It’s not gonna happen, so we’re always gonna be here. You’re in a place where you could financially have stability – but if you don’t save your money, it’s gonna do you no good, because the money comes so fast," Williams explains. "You have to be able to put something to the side, because if you don’t put nothing to the side, them rainy days you’re not gonna have nothing.”
Established in 2008, Green Tech High School serves roughly 370 students across Albany, Schenectady, Rensselaer, and Troy.