Going from one classroom to another, Janie Garza Reyes gives a tour of a barber school that started with a handful of chairs 30 years ago, and is now the largest school of its type in the Rio Grande Valley – and one of the largest in Texas.
“We opened this school from zero,” Reyes said, referring to the longtime partnership between herself and Angie Moreno in starting and building Advanced Barber College & Hair Design in Weslaco.
They met as teenagers while attending a beauty school in San Juan nearly 50 years ago. Reyes was a high school dropout looking for a direction in life. She found a kindred spirit in Moreno and the two friends vowed that someday they would start their own business. The culmination of that long-ago wish is evident on the south side of Weslaco on FM 105.
The Advanced Barber College is a nearly half-block long campus. It contains a network of classrooms that includes well over 50 barber chairs. Here, up to 150 students attend the school at any given time to complete the one-year hair stylist program. The school holds a license from the Texas Department of License and Regulation and accreditation by the Council on Occupational Education.
“This profession has been really good to me,” said Reyes, who holds licenses both as a cosmetologist and a barber.
Reyes was inspired to start the school 30 years ago because “I knew there were a lot of people out there like me who didn’t go to college.”
By that point, after operating and owning successful barber shops in Weslaco and Harlingen, Reyes knew a lack of a college degree or higher levels of education would not prevent someone from earning a good living cutting and designing hair.
“It’s like I tell my students, ‘If you can cut hair really well, they don’t care where you come from,’” she said. “Really, you can make as much money in this business as a college graduate.”
Getting there is no easy feat. Becoming a Class A barber in Texas means 1,500 hours of instruction and practice at a school like Advanced Barber College. Students start in the classroom, studying the history of barbering. This is where they learn the tools of the trade and understand the safety requirements of the profession. From there, students move on to mannequins. They then finally practice on real people under the watchful eyes of 10 instructors at the school.
Students eventually seek state certification and must pass written and skills tests given by state examiners.
The school is a busy place some weekdays. Customers stream in from the community to take advantage of haircuts ranging in cost from $2 to $10 for both women and men. Perms and manicures are higher rate offerings. Reyes said her school at times has as many as 300 customers a day. It offers her students plenty of real-world practice.
“Our students sometimes come here so low, but we help them see they can succeed, and maybe someday have their own place,” said Reyes, a Mercedes native.
Her students can draw from the life stories of Reyes and her partner Moreno. Reyes, in addition to her highly successful barber school, was appointed by then-Gov. George W. Bush to the Texas State Barber Board. She later sat on the commission of the COE. The national accreditation entity is stocked full of people with doctoral degrees.
“I had my own voice, my own story that I could bring to those boards and commissions,” she said. “That’s what I tell my students. I just went up to the eighth grade and look at what I’ve been able to do. Just imagine what you’re capable of doing.’’