Renda Songer, Palestine High School, Palestine, Texas
If you ask Renda Songer, of Palestine High School, what the first step to success is, she’ll say it begins by asking yourself: How can I serve? Her cosmetology students were honored at the 2015 SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference as a National Model of Excellence for their community service work with a local nonprofit organization — Refuge of Light, that provides shelter and resources for young women escaping abusive situations or human sex trafficking. Songer and her students spend time with the residents and provide services to those living in the shelter in the hopes of making them smile and building them up without focusing on their hardships. Often times, students are able to connect with them based on common interests and hobbies or share the same native language. Originally, the project was focused on developing communication skills while performing cosmetology services, but Songer points out that working with Refuge of Light over the course of a year built multicultural sensitivity and time management skills as well. Songer attributes the success of her students in and out of the classroom to encouraging them to get involved in the community. “It has changed their lives and I only see that getting better,” said Songer about what began as a way to inspire students living in a high poverty area.
“As they progress, we offer a lot of community service [opportunities]. They must be able to connect job skills to work and be qualified in the community on these different projects,” she described. Songer incorporates workplace safety training into her classroom with the conviction that safety is an important aspect of the cosmetology curriculum. “We are one of the few licensed professions that actually physically touch other human beings. It is imperative that our licensed cosmetology professionals put their clients’ safety first in all circumstances,” she explained. By developing and applying safety measures in the school and salon environment, Songer and her students are ensuring the safety of themselves, coworkers and fellow students.
She uses OSHA safety training as teaching exercises to develop critical thinking skills. Songer incorporates the PowerPoints offered after making a decision to teach along with the course while her students work on laptops. Her students having the industry recognized credential to put on their applications for schools and resumes for jobs tells potential employers that her students care about the safety of their clients and protecting the best interest of the company. Songer also believes that the OSHA credential is an important first step in their cosmetology certification process. “These kids feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment when they receive this first credential. Sometimes this is the first piece of recognition they have received and helps them believe they can pass the state licensure exam,” Songer said. She also shares the success of a former student who had a long academic history of failing classes and attending summer school to make up credit: “[She] passed both her written and practical exam for licensure on the first try. After becoming involved with SkillsUSA and [believing she could] pass her exams, she not only never failed another class—her grades improved and she graduated high school as a licensed cosmetologist.”
Songer believes that every accomplishment her students complete, no matter the size, instills in them the confidence that they can succeed. She wants them to know that they can do more, have more and be more than they have ever imagined. Songer is giving her students the tools to enter the workplace and be successful by first believing in themselves. She is changing their lives by inspiring them to give to their community and be a positive influence in the lives of others.