The Washington Post

D.C. high school students treat senior citizens to free haircuts, manicures

Students of the culinary department at Options Public Charter School wait outside their school for the bus that will drive them for a community service trip for senior citizens at Sarah’s Circle in Adam’s Morgan. (Astrid Riecken/For The Washington Post)

Darril Phillips was ready to be pampered. The 82-year-old sat patiently in the basement of Sarah’s Circle, a nonprofit senior citizen’s center in Adams Morgan. She watched as the team of beauticians unpacked their boxes, revealing fruity-smelling facial scrubs and nail polish in every color of the rainbow. And she kept her neck craned for the barber who had cut her hair the last time: Lavonte Bracey, a 17-year-old senior at the District’s Options Public Charter School. “He was patient with me,” said Phillips. “He treated me very nice.” Students in cosmetology and cooking classes at Options have begun making monthly trips to Sarah’s Circle to share their skills.

For the teens, it’s a chance to practice what they’ve learned — about manicures and facials, hors d’oeuvres and pates.

For the senior citizens, it’s an opportunity for a free haircut and delicious snack — as well as a chance to connect with another generation.

“I had fun last time, so I wanted to come back,” said Patricia Kelly, 61, who arrived ready to have her hair and nails done. “It’s good to have the young’uns around Sarah’s Circle.”

Options is the city’s oldest charter school, and its mission is to serve students who are at risk of dropping out. Most of its students qualify for special education and many have had run-ins with the juvenile justice system.

The school’s vocational classes are a bright spot for many students, said Aida Massie, who directs the cosmetology program.

“A lot of our students work better with their hands,” Massie said. “You can see their creativity just shine.”

At Sarah’s Circle, the teens busied themselves turning one end of a computer lab into a makeshift salon, laying out clippers and straight razors. The other end became a catering prep station, where students wearing chefs’ whites assembled platters of miniature beef fajitas and curry chicken salad sandwiches.

Their customers arrived slowly at first, and then in a flood. Phillips got her haircut. Men crowded the barber chairs, asking for a shave. And Mildred Jones, 86, wanted her nails done — with clear polish, please.

“I don’t want the color,” Jones said. “I’m too old for that stuff.”

Cortez Dargin, 16, said it was nerve-wracking to cut real people’s hair after spending so much time practicing on a mannequin. But after a few customers had come and gone, he smiled.

“They like it,” he said. “They say thank you. That thank you feels good.”

Emma Brown writes about national education and about people with a stake in schools, including teachers, parents and kids.

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