Not long ago, Shannon Payne was studying radiology at Kilgore College, but she knew it wasn’t really what she wanted to do.

Now, she is in her last semester of the cosmetology program at the Kilgore College-Longview campus.

“I’ve just always put it off, and I finally decided to do it,” Payne said about switching to cosmetology. “I’m really happy I did it because this is more me.”

About 122 students are enrolled in the cosmetology school at Kilgore College in Longview, program director Lillian Jackson said. The school has programs for barbering, cosmetology, esthetician and nail tech students.

The school reopened those services this week to the public. Students have been practicing on mannequins and each other since March 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jackson said having the public come in for services helps students get the hours they need to graduate, which range from 750 to 1,000, depending on the program.

The services at Kilgore College are cheaper, Jackson said. Where a shampoo and set might cost $35 at a salon, the same service is $5 at the college. That money goes back into the program.

“It’s exciting and joyful to know we are able to serve the public,” she said. “That’s why we’re here — to serve — and we’ve missed it. Now, it’s like a child in a candy store.”

Payne said she is looking forward to welcoming back customers because there are only so many times she and her classmates can color each other’s hair.

Tayler Wilson is in the second semester of the nail tech program and already completed the esthetician program.

“In esthetics, that’s more about your skin health, so taking care of your skin, making sure you deep cleanse your skin,” she said. “That taught you about your integumentary system, your diet, what goes into your body that makes your skin have dark marks, acne, what is the result of breakouts, why do they happen. Just the history of what really goes on in your skin and why you have breakouts, sun exposure, sun damage to your skin.”

The nail tech program is what she has always wanted to do, and Wilson said it lets her express her artistic side.

“In nail tech, you get to come over here and express yourself, express your creativity for your hands,” she said. “As a kid, I loved going to the nail shop, and didn’t really realize how much I liked it until I got in here. I thought, ‘OK, I can do this.’ It’s a different way of expressing yourself and releasing tension, releasing stress. It’s very soothing.”

Wilson said she is excited to have clients back so she can practice and meet new people.

Although she said she is nervous about germs during the ongoing pandemic, she said she feels prepared for the shop to open to the public again.

“I’m a people person,” Wilson said. “I love conversating, I love meeting new people. If we have elderly clients, that’s a plus for me because you learn so much more from the elderly clients and their experiences. It teaches you what you have today compared to what they went through back then and currently.”

Jackson said the program at Kilgore College is special for many reasons, and it is where she decided to stay after working at other schools.

“We have great instructors here, and we continue to train and learn to advance our students to the next level to become great stylists,” she said. “With all of our instructors on duty, we have over 100 years of experience. Educators that came from big salons and Paul Mitchell, Redken, so we’ve all been out there, and now we’ve planted our feet to give back to the community what was given to us.”

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Kristen is the News-Journal's education reporter. A Longview native, she got a journalism degree and a graduate certificate at Texas Tech University. She covers a variety of issues, including school finance, board meetings and happenings at local schools.