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Hairstyling and Horticulture in harmony at R.B. Russell

R.B. Russell Vocational High School’s Hairstyling and Horticulture departments put their heads together to create a unique project focused on student mental health. 

Hairstyling students haven’t been able to experience stylist/client interactions due to COVID-19 restrictions. Instead of hair care, on Feb. 4 and 5 Hairstyling students focused on plant care and self-care.

“We have these mannequin heads that we practise cutting hair on. Typically they’d be thrown out afterwards or maybe used as wig holders,” said Hairstyling instructor Barbara Parkin.

“We decided maybe we could do something different and partner up with Horticulture. We sawed the tops of the mannequin heads off with the help of the Carpentry program, dug out the insides and created planters. Then we asked our art teacher if we could borrow paints and all of a sudden we had a little project.”

The project took the form of a mental wellness initiative, with Hairstyling students painting the mannequin head planters as a form of self-expression.

“The theme was to express your personal thoughts and inner feelings by painting the mannequin heads,” Parkin said. “We discussed mental health and how stylists can relate to the wellbeing of clients.”

“We brought the Horticulture teacher down to talk about plants and how they too require nurturing and how you have to continuously work to maintain them.”

“Every student felt comfortable enough after the Horticulture discussion to start sharing their feelings with each other. We kept our social distance, but we were able to share some personal experiences and life goals.”

Parkin said the project also reduces R.B. Russell’s eco-footprint by repurposing the used mannequin heads.

Horticulture instructor Louise Shachtay said the students planted plants that would thrive in the school salon, which doesn’t have a whole lot of natural light. She said they used varieties of Sansevieria, Dracaena, Pothos, and Tradescantia plants, as well as the herb Moses-in-the-cradle and such succulents as mother of thousands.

Shachtay said every R.B. Russell student and staff member recently received a personal plant with a “message of hope and the importance of self-care.” She is a firm believer that plant care is self-care.

“I am a trained horticultural therapist,” Shachtay said. “I have worked with the elderly, people with dementia, recovering patients, palliative care, and students with a variety of needs, using plant-based activities in their treatment to promote wellbeing.” 

“With so many restrictions due to COVID-19, it’s important to bring life and self-care to the students in their salon so they can truly understand and appreciate the benefits of art and horticultural therapy.”

“As hairstylists, these students will be working in salons and interacting with a plethora of people and personalities, so creating an environment in their salons that is calming and conducive to reducing stress and anxiety can only help in enhancing the experience for both client and stylist.”

Hairstyling students Jennifer Watson and Jazzmin Paquette said the planter project boosted their self-esteem during a challenging time.  

“I enjoyed that we were able to express our self through arts and plants,” Watson said.

“I found this project beneficial with my own mental health, as I am recovering from my own mental health issues and this helped me to stay positive. It helps to show that people can grow no matter what happens.”

“Since we can't have live clients in our chairs, it’s good to have a live plant to nurture. In return, it helps cleans the air and the many designs and colors bring joy to our salon,” Paquette said.

“Just like a client/stylist relationship, I provide my plant a service and it helps me in return.”

Hairstyling student Tashina Roulette said that plant care looks a lot like caring for people. 

“This project has taught me the value of the client/stylist relationship and how important it is as a stylist to make your clients feel beautiful and heard,” Roulette said. 

“Sometimes all a client wants is someone to listen. I learned that you're not only a stylist, you’re also a therapist in a sense.”


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